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The Spanish "Second Conditional": A Simple Hypothetical Formula

What would you do if you won the lottery? Spanish uses a type of conditional sentence known as the segunda condicional (second conditional) to describe these types of scenarios, which is formed with a simple formula that we will cover today. 

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The Second Conditional in Spanish

There are many different types of Spanish conditionals, or conditional sentences. These are sentences that describe the result "if" a certain condition were in place. They are formed with a conditional si, or "if" clause, plus a main clause, and are classified according to the likelihood of the hypothetical situation. The second conditional typically focuses on scenarios that are unlikely or hypothetical, but can also be used to make an utterance extra polite

 

The Spanish Second Conditional Formula

Let's take a look at the formula for the second conditional in Spanish:

 

Si + imperfect subjunctive verb + conditional verb 

 

If you need to learn or review these tenses or how to conjugate them, we recommend these lessons on the Spanish imperfect subjunctive tense, which describes the unlikely or hypothetical action, and the Spanish conditional tense which conveys the action(s) that "would" happen if some other condition "were" in place.

 

Examples of the Spanish Second Conditional 

Let's take a look at several examples of the Spanish second conditional and some situations in which it could be employed. We'll start with some sentences that describe very unlikely situations:

 

Si me tocara la lotería, viajaría por todo el mundo, y me alojaría en los hoteles más lujosos. 

If I won the lottery, I'd travel around the whole world, and I'd stay at the most luxurious hotels.

Captions 26-27, El Aula Azul La Doctora Consejos: La segunda condicional

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Si tuvieras que morir, no podrías dejarme aquí

If you had to die, you couldn't leave me here

Caption 8, La Gusana Ciega No Me Tientes

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Si pudiera bajarte una estrella del cielo Lo haría sin pensarlo dos veces

If I could lower you down a star from the sky I'd do it without thinking twice 

Captions 5-6, Enrique Iglesias Cuando me enamoro

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Now, let's take a look at some situations that are hypothetical but less outlandish, including the equivalent for the common English expression, "if I were you":
 

Y si tuvieras hijos, ¿te gustaría que practicaran el surf también?

And if you had kids, would you like them to surf as well?

Captions 63-64, El Aula Azul Un día de surf

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Si tuviera que definirla en una sola palabra, sería amor.

If I had to define her in just one word, it would be love.

Caption 22, Fermín y los gatos Mi gata Poeska

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Bueno, si yo fuera tú, hablaría con él. 

Well, if I were you, I would speak with him.

Caption 24, El Aula Azul La Doctora Consejos: Subjuntivo y condicional

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And finally, let's see an example where the second conditional is used in a likely scenario for the sake of politeness:

 

Pues, si pudiera venir a la oficina mañana a las nueve, la ubicaríamos en su puesto enseguida. 

Well, if you could come to the office tomorrow at nine, we would get you acquainted with your position right away.

Captions 28-29, Negocios Empezar en un nuevo trabajo - Part 1

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Note that while the first conditional si puede venir a la oficina mañana a las nueve, la ubicaremos en su puesto enseguida (if you can come to the office tomorrow at nine, we will get you acquainted with your position right away) could also have been used in this situation, the second conditional in Spanish is sometimes chosen to infuse a sentence with extra formality. 

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Reversing the Formula

In some cases, the order of the imperfect subjunctive and the conditional verbs can be flipped. Let's take a look at a couple of examples:

 

Pero, por eso, estamos imaginando qué pasaría si nos tocara la lotería,

But that's why we're imagining what would happen if we won the lottery,

Captions 34-35, Clase Aula Azul La segunda condicional - Part 2

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¿Qué harías si te encontraras un sobre con cincuenta mil euros?

What would you do if you found an envelope with fifty thousand euros?

Caption 19, El Aula Azul La Doctora Consejos: La segunda condicional

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That's all for today. We hope that this lesson has helped you to understand a very common formula for talking about hypothetical situations in Spanish. For further information on this topic, we recommend this entertaining video entitled La Doctora Consejos: La segunda condicional (Doctor Advice: The Second Conditional) by El Aula Azul, or this more in-depth lesson called La Segunda Condicional by Clase El Aula Azul. And as always... don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments

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Very Polite Independent Clauses Using Subjunctive

Let's go back to the subjunctive just a little. Did you know that one characteristic that sets apart the subjunctive mood from the indicative, conditional, and the imperative is the fact that the subjunctive is found primarily in dependent clauses? (Of course, the other moods can occur there as well.) Let's illustrate this with an example from one of our videos:
 

¿Que estás queriendo que se muera más rápido?

What are you wanting for him to die faster?

Caption 12, Yago - 9 Recuperación - Part 9

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This is a classic example of subjunctive, right? It's being used to talk about a wish, a hypothetical situation. We have highlighted the subjunctive muera in bold and underlined the indicative queriendo to clearly show you the way the subjunctive is used as part of compound sentences: the indicative queriendo plays the main role as the independent clause (the action of wanting), while the subjunctive muera refers to the action that depends on it (the action of dying). This is the way the subjunctive is used most of the time. 

 

But the subjunctive is sometimes used in independent clauses. One of the most interesting cases is when the imperfect subjunctive is used to replace the conditional forms of the verbs poder (to be able), querer (to want), and deber (must) as part of what in Spanish is called el subjuntivo de cortesía (the courtesy subjunctive). As its name indicates, this construction is used to make a request or a suggestion in a more gentle, polite, or deferential way. This type of subjunctive is very, very common, so it's a good idea to memorize the corresponding conjugation for each verb. you can find full conjugations of these verbs on this page.

 

You might also want to explore the following examples. Note that the use of this subjunctive is usually combined with another verb in infinitive:

 

Quisiera saber si los perros tienen cosquillas.

I would like to know if dogs are ticklish.

Caption 102, Animales en familia - Señales de calma y cosquillas en los perros

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¿Pudieras pasarme la leche?

Could you pass me the milk?

Angélica debiera bajar a comer.

Angelica should come down to eat.

Caption 15, Muñeca Brava - 36 La pesquisa - Part 5

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All these expressions would still be correct if you used the conditional forms (querría instead of quisierapodrías instead of pudierasdebería instead of debiera); the use of subjunctive just makes them more polite, refined. It's a subtle difference, really. Think of it this way: using the conditional podrías pasarme la leche could mean, in theory, that the speaker is actually doubting whether the other person is able to pass the milk or not, instead of just asking for a favor. The use of the subjunctive leaves no room for doubts that you are making a polite request.

 

We can't stress enough how common this substitution of conditional with subjunctive is. But make no mistake, this is no conditional, and it only uses these three verbs. You may bump into similar constructions that are just incomplete compound sentences, for example incomplete si (if) clauses:

 

Si yo supiera...

If I only knew...

Caption 72, Muñeca Brava - 33 El partido - Part 4

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The subjunctive is not used as an independent clause here. Grammatically speaking, this expression is just missing its main clause, in this case a conditional. If we add it, for example: si yo supiera te lo diría (if I only knew I would tell you), we have a classic case of conditional plus subjunctive, as seen in one of our previous lessons on the subject.   

 

The same happens with the following example. It's a tricky one, because even though it uses the verb poder (to be able), this is not a case of courtesy subjunctive. To prove it, we have completed the sentence with a conditional in brackets:

 

Si pudiera bajarte una estrella del cielo [me amarías]

If I could lower down to you a star from the sky [you would love me]

Caption 5, Enrique Iglesias - Cuando me enamoro

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Another interesting use of the subjunctive used as an independent sentence happens when it's used with words that mean “perhaps,” like tal vez and quizá

 

Tal vez cure el tiempo las heridas.

Perhaps time may heal the wounds.

Caption 20, Reik - No desaparecerá

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Of course, it's also possible to simply use the indicative here and say: tal vez cura el tiempo las heridas (perhaps time heals the wounds). The use of subjunctive just stresses the idea that the action is improbable or doubtful, it's also more poetic. However—and this is just an exercise of the mind—another way of understanding these type of expressions is to recall that the words tal vez and quizá mean es posible (it's possible) and thus play the role of the main clause in a classic example of indicative plus subjunctive, where the subjunctive que cure... is the subordinate clause. Just saying.

 

Es posible que cure el tiempo las heridas.
It's possible that time will heal the wounds.

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