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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Dear Sir
I went through the above website ' conditionals.' according to it the second condition is
called 'impossible' but according to my knowledge it is the third conditional which we call' impossible.' In some grammar books 1st , 2nd and third are called 'probable, improbable and impossible respectively' so I would like to know whether it is alright to call second one 'imposslble'.
Please let me know.
Thank you.

Please let me know.
Thank you.

Hello Andrew international,

It's a bit difficult to use one word to cover all the possible meanings and uses of each conditional. It's also important to remember that conditionals reveal the speaker's perspective, not necessarily what is possible or impossible given the laws of physics or whatever laws one thinks govern the world.

Both the second and third conditional have the idea of unreality, i.e. that you're speaking about something that is imaginary but not realised. It could be possible or impossible. The second conditional speaks about something unreal in the present or future, whereas the third conditional speaks about it in the past.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir
Thank you very much for your reply about conditionals.
Please let me know whether this sentence is right or wrong.
If my grandfather lived up to now he would be a very old man (but not he would have been a very old man.)
Plese let me know.
Thank you.
Regards

Hello Andrew international,

Yes, that's the idea. It's more idiomatic to say 'be alive' than 'live up to now', so I'd recommend: 'If my grandfather were alive now, he would be a very old man'. This is a second conditional.

If you say 'would have been', you're speaking about an imaginary past. For example, 'If my grandfather had been alive in 2015, he would have been a very old man' would mean that your grandfather died well before 2015.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

If I wasn't busy yesterday I would play cricket....is it ok? Or does it fall to 2nd conditional.

Hello Arif ahmed,

I'm afraid that sentence is not correct. Some people might say 'If I wasn't busy yesterday, I would have played cricket' but really only a third conditional ('If I hadn't been busy yesterday, I would have played cricket') is correct.

All the best,
Kirk
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

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