Conditionals: third and mixed

Conditionals: third and mixed

Do you know how to use third conditionals and mixed conditionals? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how third and mixed conditionals are used.

We would have walked to the top of the mountain if the weather hadn't been so bad.
If we'd moved to Scotland when I was a child, I would have a Scottish accent now.
If she was really my friend, she wouldn't have lied to me.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Conditionals 2: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Do you know how to use third and mixed conditionals?

Third conditionals and mixed conditionals

Conditionals describe the result of a certain condition. The if clause tells you the condition (If I hadn't been ill) and the main clause tells you the result (I would have gone to the party). The order of the clauses does not change the meaning.

If I hadn't been ill, I would have gone to the party.
I would have gone to the party if I hadn't been ill.

Conditional sentences are often divided into different types.

Third conditional

The third conditional is used to imagine a different past. We imagine a change in a past situation and the different result of that change.

If I had understood the instructions properly, I would have passed the exam.
We wouldn't have got lost if my phone hadn't run out of battery.

In third conditional sentences, the structure is usually: If + past perfect >> would have + past participle.

Mixed conditionals

We can use mixed conditionals when we imagine a past change with a result in the present or a present change with a result in the past.

1. Past/Present 

Here's a sentence imagining how a change in a past situation would have a result in the present.

If I hadn't got the job in Tokyo, I wouldn't be with my current partner.

So the structure is: If + past perfect >> would + infinitive.

2. Present/Past

Here's a sentence imagining how a different situation in the present would mean that the past was different as well.

It's really important. If it wasn't, I wouldn't have called you on your holiday.

And the structure is: If + past simple >> would have + past participle.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Conditionals 2: Grammar test 2

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Hi Jonathan. Thank you very much. I was really not expecting you answer such long multiple question.

But I still have some questions.

- For first conditional: usually in grammars I've seen only the use of "would" in the second clause, but apparently the use of the other models is possible and it changes the usual understanding of improbability in this type of conditional. Is it correct?

Hi berckjr,

No problem! I'm glad you found my answer useful.

That's right, other modal verbs are possible too. For example:

  • If we had a bigger house, we could have a pet.
  • It it rains later, I might come home early.
  • If you feel tired while driving, you should stop and take a rest.

The meaning is according to the meaning of the modal verbs (could = ability; might = slight possibility; should = advice).

Normally grammar resources (including our website) highlight the use of "will" and "would" in conditional structures, but you're right to point out that other modals can be used.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by nino23 on Wed, 10/01/2024 - 12:56

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Hi!
i have a question about the usage of "expected" and "had expected" in the following sentences.I couldn't make out which one is actually correct.I hope you can help me out which one is actually correct to say
"it is prettier than I expected "
"it is prettier than I had expexted" (here the verb "is" indicates that it is in the present tense. so i thought that the first one could be correct because the past perfect is used withe the past tenses.)

" it was prettier than I expected "
"it was prettier than I had expected " ( here the verb "was" indicates that it is in the past. so here i couldn't decide which one to choose. both sound correct to me but grammatically maybe the second one would be correct because of the past perfect that is is used with the past simple
i hope you can help me out which one/ones are correct and why. also why the others are incorrect.
thank you for your help already

Hi nino23,

In short, all of these are fine.

  1. It is prettier than I expected - the action expected happened before the present time.
  2. It is prettier than I had expected - the past perfect had expected normally indicates an action occurring before another past action. No other past action is mentioned in this sentence. However, a reader or listener can still easily make sense of it by 'filling in the gap' with some other logical past action (e.g. seeing the pretty thing) that is not explicitly stated.
  3. It was prettier than I expected - the expectation clearly occurred first, so the past perfect "had expected" is also fine. However, it is common for speakers to simplify the past perfect to the past simple, especially when the order of the actions is obvious enough - an expectation must logically occur before the other action, and cannot occur after it.
  4. It was prettier than I had expected - this is a conventional use of the past perfect. The expectation occurred before the speaker described the thing as pretty.

These are interesting examples! I hope that helps to make sense of them.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thanks a lot for answering my question. it is very helpful to have a place where we can ask these kind of questions and get feedback from teachers who explain everything explicitly. it was very helpful :)

Submitted by jar07 on Wed, 01/11/2023 - 14:26

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Hello,
I have two questions.
Would you recommend using 'would' instead of will in type 1 ( real if and real main clause)?
Some credible sources say you can use it. Example: If we invite him, Adam would visit us on Monday. (If we choose to invite him over, we predict that Adam will accept our invitation and come over.) Source: https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/eb/qa/How-to-Use-Could-Would-and-….
If it is acceptable to use "would," then doesn't it make a mixed conditional with real condition in the if clause and unreal in the main clause which is against the rule of mixed conditionals?

2) Would you recommend using 'should' with type 2 conditionals (unreal if anytime and unreal main clause any time)? Some credible sources say you can use it. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/conditionals-if
Many others say you cannot use it.

Hello jar07,

I'm not a fan of the first/second/third/zero/mixed categorisation, to be honest. It's not an accurate description of the system and imposes restrictions and rules which are not supported by the language as used. Really, this way of describing conditionals is a gross simplification which may be useful when learners first meet them but which actually leads to problems later. That said...

 

1) I would not recommend this. To me, this example is problematic because of the logical inconsistency between the two clauses (an real/likely condition and an unreal/unlikely result. Of course, non-standard forms occur in every language and English is no exception so I do not doubt that these kinds of examples crop up from time to time. However, I would say that they do not follow standard usage and are not the best models for extrapolating a general rule or pattern.

 

2) Yes, it is possible to use 'should' in either clause of conditional sentences. If the if-clause 'should' refers to probability and has a sense of 'if it so happens that...' or 'if by chance...' It is quite formal and suggests something out of the speaker's control or influence. For example, in Robert Brooke's famous poem 'The Soldier' he uses 'should' in the if-clause to give the sense of 'If by chance I... / If I happen to...'. Structurally, the sentence is a real/likely future conditional but 'should' makes the condition a little less likely:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

In the result clause 'should' can certainly can be used in unreal conditionals. For example:

If you packed well, then you should have at least two sweaters. [to meet the requirement of good packing two sweaters is a necessity]

 

It's a complex area. You can find a fuller discussion of it here:

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/274115/should-in-conditionals

 


Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi.
About type 1, no you can not do this in standard English. We use "would" for past tenses while in conditional sentences type 1, we are talking about future.
Also, according to this link (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/english-grammar-referen…), the word of "would" defined as "past tense of "will" and therefore, we use it as past beliefs about the future (e.g. I thought we would be late, so we would have to take the train). Read the link and you will realize everything by yourself.
About type 2, should understand the word "Should" doesn't have the same meaning as "Would". when we use "would", we're talking about something that is not going to happen or it's not available or possible that the moment, but can be possible in our imagine.

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Submitted by Tony_M on Tue, 03/10/2023 - 01:59

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Hello,

What if we want to describe a repeated, unreal action in the past? Two friends are talking about their days in college:

A: - You know, I used to have a very interesting English teacher. He was so passionate about his subject, he would exude confidence and energy every time he walked into the classroom.
B: - Probably he was on a special diet, or he might take some vitamins.
A: - Laughing.
B: - What? Seriously, what would you use if you were in his place? What would you do if you saw a bunch of lackadaisical students every single day?

I think Conditional Type 3 is too limited to a particular situation.
And 'What would you have used if you had been in his place?' - sounds too cumbersome.

Thank you.

Hi Tony_M,

The questions in B's second answer are in the second conditional and refer to an unreal present or future situation. Even though the teacher's actions were in the past, it's still coherent to pose a question about encountering this same situation again but in the present/future, and I think this is what sounds most natural. It doesn't necessarily need to be a third conditional.

I agree that the third conditional sounds a bit cumbersome (although it's grammatically fine) in this example, especially as it's a spoken dialogue. I would expect something like "What would you have done (in his place)?" as a less cumbersome way to say the same thing. 

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team