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.





I have this sentence " Everything was quiet except for the sound of birds singing."
If I rewrite this using "But for", which of the followings is correct please ?
1. But for the sound of bird singing, everything was quiet
2. But for the sound of bird singing, everything would have been quiet

I think sentence 1 is wrong and sentence 2 is correct because the original sentence uses past tense so the rewritten sentence must be an unreal past condition (type 3).

Hence, the main clause should be "would + present perfect" and " but for" here is equal to " if it had not been for"

Also I think sentence 1 is wrong because Main clause lacks of modal verb " would" which is part of the conditional sentence.

Kindly clarify this point. Thank you.

thank you

Hello Widescreen,

'But for' can have a hypothetical meaning ('if not for'), as in the second sentence, but it can also have a 'real' meaning ('apart from'), as in the first example. Both are possible and both are correct.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Is this sentence correct or not?
Once you get entered in this stuff, it would become difficult to come out of it.
Stuff can be like bad activities

Hello Asgharkhan8,

That sentence is grammatically correct, but British native speakers don't tend to use 'stuff' to refer to different kinds of activities, nor do they talk about 'entering' into activities for the most part. Instead, I'd say they'd be more likely to say something like 'Once you get involved in these kinds of things'. Nevertheless, if the context were clear, I think your sentence would be understood.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, would it have been ok to say ".... these kind of things, kind being singular?"

Hello Njovo,

We would rather say 'this kind of thing' or 'these kinds of things'. I think any other variation would not be accepted use.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team


''If you didn't want to buy the shirt, you shouldn't have bought it''

The real condition requires real result, but unreal condition is instead. I believe verb in result should be changed into past simple(didn't have to...) and I know that an if clause always happens first, so would it be clear enough or past perfect should be used in the condition clause to make it clearer?(if you hadn't wanted to.., you didn't have to..)

According to use of tenses in usual sentences, can they be used in conditionals same way? At least in real or unreal.

Can an if clause and a sentence not be conditional? For example,
''If you will/would follow me, I'll show you your table''
''If scanning will help me, I'll take the test''
These are said not to be conditional sentences and maybe that's why will is used in an if clause.

Thank you.

Hello MCWSL,

First of all I'm going to simplify the sentence by making it positive:

If you wanted the shirt, you should have bought it.

Both parts describe unreal actions or states. The confusion arises because the state in the first part is not limited to the past. It was true in the past but is also true now: it is an unreal general (permanent) state. This is similar to the following:

If I were a woman... [I'm not a woman and I was not in the past either]

and this sentence can also be followed by a past result:

...I would have been treated differently as a child

In other words, something which is true both of the past and the present can have a past result.


If the verb form is changed to the past perfect then the meaning changes:

If you had wanted the shirt, you should have bought it.

Now the meaning of the condition is exclusively past, which means that you wanted it in the past but do not now. The past perfect form limits the meaning to the past rather than being true in the past and present.

All of the above is true of the original sentence, of course, but the negative forms add an extra layer of potential confusion.


The if-clauses are still conditional forms, grammatically speaking, in your other examples. They have communicative functions as well (polite requests, for example) but are still conditional forms.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, good night.
Could you tell me please if the following sentences are gramatically correct?

'If you surrender now, you won’t be able to continue in the contest'
Could this another one be right also?

'If you surrender now, you won't be able of continuing in the contest'

Thank you in advance.