Third conditionals and mixed conditionals

Conditionals are sentences with two clauses – an ‘if clause and a main clause – that are closely related. Conditional sentences are often divided into different types.

Third conditional

Third conditional sentences describe the past. They describe something that didn’t happen.

  • If I’d studied harder at school I would have gone to university.

He didn’t study very hard and he didn’t go to university.

  • We wouldn’t have got lost if you hadn’t given me the wrong directions.

She wasn't given the correct directions and she didn't find her way.

  • She might have finished the exam if she’d had more time.

She didn't finish the exam and she didn't have more time.

In third conditional sentences, the structure is usually if + past perfect and would + perfect infinitive (e.g. have done). It’s not important which clause comes first.

Notice that other modal verbs can be used instead of ‘would’ (e.g. ‘could’, ‘might’ ‘may’)

Mixed conditionals

In mixed conditional sentences the time in the ‘if’ clause is not the same as the time in the main clause. There can be various combinations.

  • If he’d gone to university he might have a better job.

He didn’t go to university (past)
He doesn’t have a very good job. (present)
This sentence shows the present consequences of a past action.

  • If I’d won the competition I’d be going to Florida next week.

She didn’t win the competition (past)
She isn’t going to Florida (future)
This sentence shows the future consequences of a past action.

  • If he didn’t have to work tomorrow he wouldn’t be so miserable today.

He has to work tomorrow (future)
He’s miserable. (present)
This sentence shows the present consequence of a future event.

 

Exercise

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Comments

Hi ... "If he studied more, he would pass the exam." In this sentence, should we understand that the exam will be done in the future ... and, at the time of speaking, speaker means that he don't study sufficiently ... right?

Hi Ogeday,

As written, the sentence refers to an unlikely future, exactly as you say. It could refer to a general situation if not for the direct article. If it said 'pass exams' instead of 'pass the exam' then it would be about the person's general lack of work and success, not about a particular exam in the future. With 'the', however, it has a future meaning.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Here is the sentence:
"I must say that we can improve our English speaking skill more rapidly if we were taught how to speak in English at a young age."
Is it correct? Shouldn't be "can" replaced with "could"?

Hello anna.m,

The correct word here is 'could' because the sentence describes a hypothetical situation in the present. 'Can' is not correct because the verb in the if-clause is a past form.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

'If the devil is going to use a human womb for his spawn, he is going to...''

Is this correct in the if clause? Maybe this is informal form. For example,

''If I had money, I would go for Paris'' = ''If I would have money, I would go for Paris''

One is standard English sentence and the other is informal form.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

Thank you in advance

Hello MCWSL,

It is possible to use 'going to' in both clauses like this. The meaning in the if-clause is 'if... is planning to...' and in the result clause 'then... is what we can expect'

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

''If I am to work with you, what will you offer to me?''

Is this the same as ''If you were to work with me, what would you offer to me?''?

The second is unreal conditional meaning fewer possibility, so the first, which is real, maybe is more likely but still not probable?

Thank you.

Hello JamiMakav,

The meaning here is something like 'If I agree to work with you' or 'If I end up working with you'. It is a formal way to express this but is not an unreal condition.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

you mentioned above that "Third conditional sentences describe the past. They describe something that didn’t happen.". I would like to seek your clarification regarding this, i.e. does the third conditional describe something that factually did not happen (that is, we know for certain), or does it describe something that the speaker/author believes didn't happen (that is a believe, unverified fact)? Or does the third conditional cover both scenarios which I've described above?

Thanks!

Regards,
Tim

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