A – Are there any pet restrictions?
B – No pet restrictions, but you pay for any damage they do
A – 1. So if my cat tore up the curtains, I would have to pay for the damage.
  (2nd conditional)
A – 2. So if my cat tears up the curtains, I have to pay for the damage.
  (1st conditional)

These seem quite interchangeable, are they? Is the second one conveying more seriousness, like the speaker sees the event as a realistic concern?


1 Answer 1


There is no significant difference in meaning between form 1 and form 2 here. I would think of 1 as a shortened, informal version of 2. The version 3 suggested by FumbleFingers:

(3) So if my cat were to tear up the curtains, I would have to pay..

would be the most formally correct form, in my view, but there is still no change in meaning, and a fluent speaker would easily understand any of these forms, and might use any.

I would note that "numbered" conditional types, as used by many ESL teachers, are not normally taught to or used by native speakers, and many will not understand what each number means. Moreover, the numbered types do not include all valid conditional forms, only the most common versions. I advise against using such numbers for conditional types, except when speaking with people trained in ESL teaching.

There is no implication that any of these means the speaker is treating the possibility more seriously, or showing more concern, than any other version. Tone of voice or manner might convey such and implication, or additional context might suggest such an implication.

  • But since we more often than not use the second conditional for things that are impossible or unlikely or otherwise distant, doesn't the sentence at light slightly suggest that the speaker view the event as somewhat less serious than in the 1st conditional sentence because such sentences are more often used for speaking about something rather serious, about real consequences. Jan 27 at 15:09
  • @ASDASD ASDASD No, one cannot reliably draw such a conclusion. Many fluent speakers might use either form with no indication of how likely they consider the contingency. This is especially true in impromptu conversation, where the speaker has not had time to carefully consider what form s/he will use, and what its implications might be. Jan 27 at 15:26

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