Hypotheticals are situations one imagines – they are based on the idea ‘what if x happened?’

The 2nd Conditional
(if…would)

The second conditional is ‘if x happened, what would be the result?’

The second conditional takes the past tense, the past continuous, or ‘could’ (instead of ‘can’)

The hypothetical ‘if’ clause can be placed before or after the result.

-examples:

If you could help me, I would be very thankful.
(= I would be very thankful if you could help me)

I think she would say ‘yes’ if he asked her to marry him.
(= If he asked her to marry him, I think she would say ‘yes’.)

If the sun died, life on Earth would cease to exist.
(= Life on Earth would cease to exist if the sun died.)

The 3rd conditional
(if + past perfect…would have done / if + past perfect …would be)

The third conditional is for how life would be different, or how life would have been different, if an event in the past had been different.

If talking about how life would be different now, use ‘would be…’.

If talking about how life would have been different in the past, use ‘would have (done)’.

Again, the hypothetical clause can be before or after the result.

– examples:

1. Different Past

If she hadn’t come to Shanghai, I wouldn’t have met her.
(= I wouldn’t have met her if she hadn’t have come to Shanghai.)

2. Different Present

If I hadn’t failed that exam, I would be a pilot now.
(= I would be a pilot now if I hadn’t failed that exam.)

She would be a lot happier if she hadn’t married so young.
(= If she hadn’t married so young, she would be a lot happier.)

‘Hypothetically Speaking’

The term ‘hypothetically speaking’ is sometimes used when describing an imaginary problem to which you are looking for an answer.
(it makes it clearer to the listener or reader that this is not a real situation)

It is most often used in posing questions, but may be given in statements too.

The term ‘speaking hypothetically’ can also be used.

– examples:

I think you will pass but what would you do if, hypothetically speaking, you failed?

If, hypothetically speaking, there was a better man than your husband who was interested in you, would you get a divorce?

“You want to quit?!”
“No, boss, I am just saying that, hypothetically speaking, if I were to become seriously ill I wouldn’t continue to work.”

If I, and I am speaking hypothetically, liked your wife, what would you do?

Exercises

1. What would you do if:
a) you found a gun?
b) you were God?
c) you had to choose between your career or love?

2. How would your life be different if one thing had not happened in the past?

3. Make 2 questions about hypothetical situations, using ‘hypothetically speaking’ in the question.