If Jack could teach any type of student, he would choose business students.

I have been told that this is the second conditional. However, I am confused as the form for the second conditional is If + past simple + would + infinitive.

From what I can see, teach is present simple in this sentence, not past simple. Would it not be correct to say the following:

If Jack taught (simple past) any type of student, he would choose business students.

  • 2
    The first, second, third conditional classification of conditional phrases is at best a simplification, at worst a huge confusion that has little to do with real grammar
    – James K
    Apr 13, 2020 at 17:57
  • You need to clarify your question. There is absolutely no way to form a grammatical complex verb where the substantive verb precedes a modal or auxiliary. And in fact, your example of "could teach" shows the modal preceding the substantive verb. Nor is it correct to determine tense of a complex verb by looking at the tense of the substantive verb. "I will go" is not in the present tense. Apr 13, 2020 at 18:05
  • I was given that sentence and told to write down what type of conditional clause it is. I guess my question would be, what steps do I need to follow to in order to figure out what type of conditional clause it is?
    – Harry
    Apr 13, 2020 at 18:36
  • "could" is the past tense of "can". In this sentence, "can" would be incorrect because it's present tense.
    – gotube
    Jul 13, 2021 at 5:16

1 Answer 1


The first part is the simple past tense of "Jack can teach any type of student"

If Jack (was able to) teach any type of student....

The second clause is the conditional "would"

... he would choose business studies.

As such if fits the typical "If past tense,... would ..." structure that is sometimes taught as the "second conditional".

  • Thank you for the reply. Why in this situation does teach not change tense but the world can does? Seriously, thank you so much for your reply.
    – Harry
    Apr 13, 2020 at 19:42
  • 1
    because the modal is followed by a bare infinitive. "can teach" "could teach" "will teach" "would teach" "shall teach" "should teach" Always the infinitive.
    – James K
    Apr 13, 2020 at 20:14
  • Thank you. I just have one final question, I was taught that modal verbs are tenseless, so is could actually the past form of can?
    – Harry
    Apr 14, 2020 at 8:55
  • sort of.... Could is the past tense of can, but it also has lots of other uses that are unrelated to tense. This is another question, and you should probably write a new question.
    – James K
    Apr 14, 2020 at 10:28

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