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Third Conditional

Learn how to talk about regrets and imaging different situations in the past with the third conditional.

The Third conditional is used to describe a situation in the past that didn’t happen and the imagined result of that situation. You can make it like this:

If+past perfect, would have+ verb + past participle

How you can make the third conditional

How you can use the third conditional

Practice making the third conditional

Challenge: Compare the second and the third conditional

Download this explanation as a PDF

How can you make the third conditional?

Look at this example

“If I had seen you, I would have said hello.”

(reality= I didn’t see you and I didn’t say hello.)

Do you need to review the past perfect? Click here.

More Examples

  • If I had gone to University, I would have gotten a better job.

(reality= I didn’t go to University and that’s why I didn’t get a better job.)

  • If I hadn’t gone to that party, I wouldn’t have met my husband.

(reality= I went to that party and that’s why I met my husband..)

  • I wouldn’t have gone on holiday if I’d known about the exam.

(reality= I went on holiday because I didn’t know about the exam.)

Using Would

It is very common (and more natural😃) to use the short forms (contractions) in conditionals. Here’s how you form them for the third conditional.

Sentence Structure

Like with other conditionals you can change the order of the clauses. When the imagined result is first, you don’t need a comma (,).

If I had remembered her number yesterday, I would have called her.

untrue situation + imagined result

If + past simple, would + verb

I would have called her if I had remembered her number yesterday.

imagined result + untrue condition

Would + verb if + past simple

How can you use the Third conditional?

Expressing Regret

When you want to talk about something that didn’t happen in the past or something that you are sorry about in the past, you can use the third conditional.

  • If I had been there, I would have helped you. ( but I wasn’t there and didn’t/ wasn’t able to help you)

  • If I had come to visit sooner, I would have seen my grandmother before she died. (but I didn’t come sooner and I didn’t see my grandmother before she died)

  • We wouldn’t have missed our train if there hadn’t been so much traffic on the highway. (but we did miss our flight because there was a lot of traffic on the highway)

Imagining different outcomes in the past

When you want to talk about imagined results in the past and the causes, you can use the third conditional.

  • If I had gone to sleep earlier, I wouldn’t have overslept. (but I didn’t go to sleep earlier and I overslept!)

  • She would have done better on her exam if she had done her homework. (but she didn’t do her homework so she didn’t do well on her exam)

  • If I had seen the instructions, I would’ve known what to do. (but I didn’t see the instructions and didn’t know what to do).

Practice making the third conditional

Challenge: Third conditional vs Second Conditional

The main difference between the second conditional and third conditional is that the first conditional talks about an imagined situation in the present or future, and the third conditional talks about an imagined situation in the past.

To practice understanding the difference between the second and third conditional, try this exercise.

Online meeting

it's time to practice SPEAKING

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