Could you please tell me if this sentence is in 2nd conditional? Does it indicate the present or future?

If Rahim thought Karim was too confident that he (Rahim) would always be capable of answering, he (Rahim) would say this "don't count on me being able to answer all your questions."

  • The classifications of conditionals is an imprecise concept that doesn't have native-English use. In this case, would generally refers to a future situation, but it can also refer to a present situation (if an action is starting to happen in the present). Commented May 12, 2020 at 23:10
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    Although I normally never answer such a question (it's not considered appropriate for anybody to ask that—voting is personal and information about it only uncommonly volunteered), no, I have not. Commented May 13, 2020 at 13:39
  • Please don't mind me. I wouldn't have asked that question if the downvote hadn't frustrated me. As a non native speaker I have the eagerness to learn anything if it comes to English. So, on the basis of that I asked this question on this forum. It would be better if I get a downvote along with a satisfying answer but getting a downvote without a satisfying answer is really frustrating. If you were in my shoes you could understand that feelings 🙂 Commented May 13, 2020 at 20:05
  • I just gave you an upvote—although without a satisfying answer … (But with my first comment about about it being most often future, but sometimes present, did that least to a more specific question or clarification?) Commented May 13, 2020 at 20:29
  • Thanks Jason. Yeah I am satisfied now 😇 Commented May 14, 2020 at 9:21

2 Answers 2


This could definitely be a remote conditional construction (CaGEL p748). It boils down to:

If Rahim thought (A), he would say (B).

being the counterpart of the open conditional:

If Rahim thinks (A), he will say (B).

The remote construction differs from the open in that it entertains the condition as being satisfied in a world which is potentially different from the actual world. Compare:

He won’t resign. If he did he would lose most of his superannuation entitlement.

Here we have a preterite form in the if... and a modal preterite would in the then... just like in your original statement. Both the condition and the outcome of that condition are clearly future events. We could also have this combination for a condition and outcome both in present time:

If Grannie were here, she would be invisible.

Again, this implies that the speaker thinks she's not here and hence the outcome, her being invisible, is not true.

In sum, there are at least three different possible interpretations depending on context: a condition that was satisfied at least once, but probably more than once, in the past with its accompanying outcome; a supposition about Rahim's actions under different conditions in the present; an event the speaker considers unlikely in the future with the accompanying outcome.

  • Please introduce CGEL's terminology before using it, and explain why the terminology usually encountered in TEFL contexts is (a) different and (b) considered less appropriate. After all, not all linguists even use either of them. And I believe 'second conditional' etc predates CGEL terminology. // The 'if' = 'whenever' possibility (which I believe you've mentioned in passing), being the most probable here, needs to be foregrounded. Commented May 14, 2020 at 13:19

This sentence has the appearance of a second conditional but it is not a conditional at all:. In it "if" is not used in the usual sense fit for a condition OALD.

used to say that one thing can, will or might happen or be true, depending on another thing happening or being true

It is used​ instead in this second sense (same ref.).

when; whenever; every time

In "he (Rahim) would say this", "would" is not used in the sense expected for a conditional, that is, as a conditional verb form (ref.), but it is used (still being a modal) as a means to indicate repetition in the past, a habit in the past. So, in other terms, this sentence reads as follows.

  • When/Whenever Rahim thought Karim was too confident that he (Rahim) would always be capable of answering, he (Rahim) was in the habit of saying/was wont to say/used to say this: "don't count on me being able to answer all your questions.".

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