How to talk about your dreams in English

When I was a child I often dreamed about playing in the NBA. I would say things like, “if I made it to the NBA, I would be the best player in the world”. I idolized these players. That is why one of the happiest days of my life was when my team won the NBA championship last year. Why do I tell you this? Well, because today we will learn about conditionals. Do you know which conditional form I used in my previous example? Let’s look at it again.

If I made it to the NBA, I would be the best player in the world. If + made (past simple),… would + be (infinitive). I used the Second Conditional because the probability that I would make it to the NBA was very unlikely.

Now let’s look at some of the other conditionals.

  • The First Conditional: Possible or likely things in the future
    (if + present simple, … will + infinitive)
    Ex. If I see her, I’ll tell her.

We’re not 100% certain that it will happen, but it is very likely.

Note: The ‘if’ in this conditional can usually be replaced by ‘when’ but be careful because the meaning slightly changes. Using ‘when’ makes the event more likely to happen. Ex. When I see her, I’ll tell her.

  • The Second Conditional: Impossible things in the present / unlikely things in the future
    (if + past simple, … would + infinitive)
    Ex. If I had a lot of money, I would travel around the world.

The second conditional is the one that people use when they talk about their dreams. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “If I was rich, I would travel around the world” or “If I had time, I would learn a new language”. My hope is that you can move your dreams up to the First conditional. So instead of saying, “if I had time, I would learn a new language” you can say, “If I learn English, I’ll be able to travel and discover new places”.

The Third Conditional: Things that didn’t happen in the past and their imaginary results
(if + past perfect, … would + have + past participle)
Ex. If she had studied, she would have passed the exam.

So to recap:

  • The First Conditional (when) = Very likely to happen
  • The First Conditional (if) = Likely to happen
  • The Second Conditional = Not likely to happen
  • The Third Conditional = Impossible because it’s in the past

Are you ready to take a quiz? Click on the link below to test your knowledge.

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