Third conditional

From Teflpedia

The third conditional, also known as a type 3 conditional or an impossible conditional is an English pedagogical conditional consisting an unreal conditional sentence where the unreal condition and its consequence are both in past time. For example:

  • If I hadn't eaten that chicken, I wouldn't have got stomach ache.

Meaning[edit | edit source]

The condition is in past time, and expressed counterfactually. For example, since we know that Joe Biden won the 2020 US Presidential Election, and beat Donald Trump, we can express a counterfactual condition: If Trump had won…

For the third conditional, the consequence is also in the past time. It is also not true.

This is often used for expressing regrets about past actions that cannot be changed. For example, If I had studied harder at school, I would have done better in my exams.

If a consequence is in present, future or general time, then we need a mixed conditional instead.

Form[edit | edit source]

This uses the past tense to express distancing in reality, and the perfect aspect to express past time. The prototypical sentence consists of:

  • If + [Subj] had + [past participle], [Subj] [modal preterite] + have + [past participle].



We can use an inverted conditional instead of using if:

  • Had Trump won the 2020 election, I would have…

Appropriacy[edit | edit source]

These are quite common in narration generally written in the past tense. It’s also used in counterfactual historical speculations, such as "How would the Second World War have unfolded if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941?"

Lots of this online but see e.g. https://www.perfect-english-grammar.com/third-conditional.html

Pedagogy[edit | edit source]

The third conditional is the last of the pedagogical conditionals to be learnt by learners. This is learnt at about upper intermediate level. They should therefore be familiar with the zero first, and second conditionals. Learners may naturally produce mixed conditionals at this stage for future or present consequences.

CCQs[edit | edit source]

Example: If I hadn't eaten that chicken, I wouldn't have got stomach ache.

CCQs for this example:

  • Is the condition in the past, present or future? (The past)
  • Is the consequence in the past, present or future? (The past)
  • Did I eat the chicken? (yes)
  • Did I get stomach ache? (yes)
  • Can I change this? (no)