Do you know how to use third and mixed conditionals?

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

Language level

Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

Thanks a lot, Kirk.

Excuse me, Is the following structure correct? Is it second or third conditional with the use of the words "last week"?
If you listened to last week’s programme, you would have heard Professor Jeremy Beech answering some of your questions about trees.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,
Yes, the sentence is correct. It's an unusual sentence as it appears to mix real and unreal clauses, but it is possible.
~
The first clause ('If you listened to last week’s programme') describes a real situation; it tells us that the speaker thinks the other person listened to the programme.
Normally, we would expect a real result to follow, making the sentence like this:
'If you listened to last week’s programme, you heard Professor Jeremy Beech answering some of your questions about trees.'
This sentence conveys certainty: the speaker is drawing a logical conclusion ('you heard') from an accepted fact ('you listened').
~
If the speaker wanted to describe an unreal situation then they could have done so:
'If you had listened to last week’s programme, you would have heard Professor Jeremy Beech answering some of your questions about trees.'
Here, the speaker does not think the other person listened, or heard Professor Beech.
~
However, sometimes the situation is less clear. Imagine the speaker believes that the other person listened, but still imagines it is possible for them to have not heard part of the information. In this case, a perfect modal is needed. 'Would have', 'might have', 'could have' and so on are all possible:
'If you listened to last week’s programme, you would have heard Professor Jeremy Beech answering some of your questions about trees.'
'If you listened to last week’s programme, you might have heard Professor Jeremy Beech answering some of your questions about trees.'
'If you listened to last week’s programme, you may have heard Professor Jeremy Beech answering some of your questions about trees.'
~
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Peter Sir
This is a new revelation from you; you say that past tense in if clause could mean real past - contrary to what we have been reading till now that past tense in if clause always means unreal or unlikely present or future, and so we have been judging some sentenses wrong on the basis of present condition and past result.

How do we judge if the past tense in if clause is for real past or unlikely/unreal present or future.

Will you help clear the doubt.

Hello dipakrgandhi

It's great to see that you are reading through our comments so carefully. I'm sorry that this is confusing and can see how it must be, but if there's a description somewhere that says that the past simple after 'if' always describes an unreal present or future, then it is wrong.

In this case, the phrase 'last week' makes it clear that the past is being talked about. Sometimes it won't be clear from one sentence alone; you might need to look in the previous or following sentences or even paragraphs to accurately discover the contextual information that will allow you to understand a statement.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Thank you so much. what about the following sentence? Is it also real conditionals?
- If you listened to last week’s Natural World, you would know that we had a lot of unanswered questions about trees.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,
It's very hard to answer these questions without knowing the context as there are too many possibilities. I think, to be honest, you are approaching it the wrong way round. Rather than presenting sentences without context, tell us what you want to say (explain the situation) and we will be happy to suggest how you might express yourself.
~
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

It's a tape script in our book in Egypt.
Presenter: Hello. If you listened to last week’s Natural World, you would know that we had a lot of unanswered questions about trees. So this week, we have invited Professor Jeremy Beech to answer these and other questions about trees. Welcome to the programme, Professor.
Prof. Beech: Hello.
Presenter: Can we have our first question, please?
Female caller: Hello, I’d like to ask the professor about the tallest tree in the world.
Where is it and how tall is it?
...................
But in another tape script in the same book
Presenter: If you listened to last week’s programme, you would have heard Professor Jeremy Beech answering some of your questions about trees. I’m sure that, like me, you wished that you knew as much about them as he does. Today, we welcome Professor Beech back to talk about forests.
Professor, could you start by telling us about the different kinds of forests?
Prof. Beech: Yes, let me explain. Well, as we all know,..................................
Thank you

Hello Ahmed Imam,
The time of each action is different:
'...you would have heard...' refers to an action which took place in the past (hearing).
'...you would know...' refers to a state true in the present (knowing).
I hope that clarifies it for you.
~
Please note that we generally do not provide explanations for material from elsewhere. We're happy to explain the information on our own pages, or to answer more general questions about the language where we can, of course.
~
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

"She would have been fine provided that she’d worn sun cream."
Is this sentence correct or we should replace "provided that" with "if"?
Thank you.

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