Lost in Translation

Or, Cross-cultural communication. What the English say vs. what foreigners hear.

The concept of saying the opposite of what you mean may seem both confusing and unnecessary to many people.

I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect You are an idiot He is listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane He thinks I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please rewrite completely He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided

Second Conditional: Unreal Possibility

The Second Conditional used for impossible situations, unlikely events, dreams, and advice.

This conditional talks about the future, but there isn’t usually a real possibility that this condition will happen.

Imagine winning the lottery.  Even though you don’t have a ticket, you could buy a lottery ticket in the future and win, so you can still imagine what you would do if that ever happened.  It’s not very real, but it’s still possible.

We use the Past Simple to talk about the future condition.  We use would or could  or might base verb to talk about the result.

The “be” verb is usually conjugated in the subjunctive form of “were“.

IF Condition Result
If  loved her,  would marry her.
If They won the lottery, they could buy a new house.
If she were happy at work, she might not be looking for another job.
If were in your position, would understand.
If you went to Paris, would you visit the Eiffel Tower?
Result IF Condition
I would get a new job if I were you.
I could be rich if I worked harder.
She might marry Sam if he became rich.
He would do it for me if I asked him.
What would you do if you lived in China?

The difference between the First and Second conditional is usually a matter of the speaker’s attitude rather than facts.  For example, Kristen thinks these things are possible, but Jackie doesn’t.

  • Kristen: If I win the lottery, I will travel the world.
  • Jackie: If I won the lottery, I would travel the world.
  • Kristen: If I have more spare time, I will join the sports club.
  • Jackie: If I had more spare time, I would join the sports club.


We can also use the Past Progressive in the “if” clause. For example:

  • If we were working together, we would finish much faster.
  • If you were living in Vancouver, you could see me every day.


Sometimes the “if” clause is implied and not directly stated. For example:

  • What would I do without you? (if you weren’t here)
  • He wouldn’t agree. (if I asked him)