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.

 

Exercise

Tags

Comments

If you replace 'would' with 'could' is it still a mixed conditional? Eg. If only Jed hadn't stopped practicing ballet, he could have been a famous dancer by now.

Hello nic.0448,

You can use a range of modal verbs in conditional forms and 'could' is perfectly fine here. You could also use 'might' or 'ought to' in your sentence, for example.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you explain how to use a third conditional with the phrase "have to"? Is the sentence "I could have done this if I had had to?" gramatically correct?

Hello dmitry_at,

Yes, that's perfectly fine.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Can someone explain me when we use "used to" and " would (always/never) what is the purpose of the option of "would"? why we have 2 different ways to explain past actions or habits? Especially, can someone explain me the structure when we use 'would' e.g. When I was a kid I would always go to the chirch on Sunday. I have been asked why we use "would" and Im not sure how to answer gramatically.

Many thanks,
G

Hello MissUrb,

We use both 'used to' and 'would' to talk about things that were typical or habitual for someone or something in the past. We can think of these in two categories: actions and states.

Actions are things we do: travel, eat, play and so on.

States are things we are or things that represent how we are: be, feel, think, live and so on.

 

We can use both 'used to' and 'would' to describe habitual actions in the past:

I used to play football every Sunday. [correct]

I would play football every Sunday.  [correct]

 

However, we can only use 'used to' to describe past states and not 'would':

I used to live in London. [correct]

I would live in London. [not correct]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter!

I thought thats how I explained it too, though I was then asked whats the purpose of 'would' in the sentence structure in this case? As I think they wanted to know why cant they just use 'used to' all the time?

Hello! Can i know the difference in between the statements ''If I'd known you were coming" and ''If I'd known that you were coming" ?

Hello IsuriG,

There is no difference in meaning between the two sentences. The conjunction 'that' can be left out in many cases, especially in more informal situations.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I'm confused about the third type of mixed conditional.
"If he didn't have to work tomorrow he wouldn't be so miserable today."
The first situation, " if he didn't have to work tomorrow", talks about a future situation, but the word "did" is used with reference to the word "tomorrow".
As an english learner, i stick to the clear-cut rules that "will" must be used when talking about future events, hence: "If he will not have to work tomorrow he wouldn't be so miserable today."
Is this a case of exception to the rule? I'm confused.

Pages