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

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Comments

Hello MCWSL,

You are misinterpreting the result clause here. The speaker is really saying in each case '...then I can conclude that...' The sentence describes the speaker's interpretation of the current state of affairs, not a past action in isolation. Therefore the result (the speaker's conclusion) does not come before the condition.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for the answer, Peter,

''If you were making / were going to make / made the world better place to live, you would have made it before''

Only ''were going to make'' makes sense because it satisfies the rule. Is it because of that we describe actions, not states? I could add '...then I can conclude that...' in the sentence; for example, ''If you made / were making the world better place to live, then I can conclude you would have made it before.'' Would then it make sense?

Thank you in advance

Hello MCWSL,

We're happy to help you with specific questions about English. This comment uses three different verb forms rather than a specific one, which greatly complicates explaining things.

Perhaps I've also misunderstood your question, but it also seems to be more about logic, a domain of philosophy, than language. I'm afraid that is beyond the scope of what we do here -- though please correct me if I've misunderstood you.

In any case, could you please simplify your question so that we help you? Please keep all of this in mind for any future comments you make as well. Thanks in advance.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk,
In the two sentences posted above ''If John is dead, Jack has been dead for weeks'' or ''If John has come to the town, he has failed the exams'' I thought the condition was in present and the result was in the past meaning it doesn't satisfy the rule ''condition comes first'' But the meaning here as Peter's said is ''therefore I can conclude that.'' Thus I could say a condition must happen first so that the result either can happen or can have happened. (Correct me if I'm wrong)
So would the two sentences below be correct if I added after the comma this: ''therefore I can conclude that'' ?
If you were making / made the world a better place to live, you would have made it before coming here.
If they stand alone, these two sentences are incorrect since they don't satisfy the rule.
Thank you

Hello MCWSL,

In general, the condition described in the condition part of a conditional sentence happens first, but I'm afraid I don't want to make generalisations beyond that. Language didn't evolve as a logical system -- to me it sounds as if you may be trying to apply logic too strongly to linguistic forms.

Could you please write out the sentences that you are asking about rather than describing them? In addition, please don't use multiple forms (e.g. 'were making / made') within the same sentence, as they can have different meanings and so should be treated differently. Write the two sentences out separately.

If you write out the sentences you want to ask about, I think everything will be much clearer. At the very least I can be sure that I understand what you are asking about.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
The question is: are these sentences correct?

''If you were making the world a better place to live, I can conclude that you would have made it before coming here''

''If you made the world a better place to live, I can conclude that you would have made it before coming here''

Thanks

Hello MCWSL,

Thank you for writing them out. They both sound a bit odd to me. When you say 'you would have made it', do you mean 'you would have achieved this (i.e. made the world a better place to live)?

What does 'before coming here' refer to? Are we now in heaven, for example? Or has the person just moved from one country to another? Understanding the situation you're talking about it will help me help you, I think.

I suppose the sentences sound strange to me because if someone had managed to improve the world and I am judging whether they have done that, then I'd probably want to focus on that as an achievement (using for example the word 'achieve') or say something about what they achieved rather than specify when ('before coming here') it happened. But perhaps you have a situation in mind where this makes sense -- I just don't know what it is.

I'm sorry to prolong this, but I can only help if I understand this somewhat complex situation.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello.
May I say "If you had asked me yesterday to stay with you longer, then I would have agreed." I refer that to past...
Thanks.

Hello ivarsps,

Yes, that is a correctly-formed third conditional sentence. Well done!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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