Understanding Conditionals III: Third Conditional

By | April 26, 2015

by Nigina Dustova

We use the Third Conditional to talk about an event or situation that did not happen in the past:

Conditional clause main clause
If + Past Perfect – would + Perfect

If David had been more careful, he wouldn’t have fallen.
If you hadn’t made the mistake, you’d have passed your test.

We can use could + perfect in the if-clause.
If I could have warned you in time, I would have done.

We can use other modal verbs such as could or might+ perfect in the main clause.
If I’d written the address down, I could have saved myself some trouble.

The plan might not have worked if we hadn’t had one great piece of luck.
We can also use continuous forms.

If he hadn’t been evicted by his landlord, he wouldn’t have been sleeping in the streets.
If he had been traveling in that car, he would have been killed too.

Exercises: Put the verbs in brackets into the correct tenses.

  1. If he (not take) his gloves off he (not get) frost bitten.
  2. He didn’t tell me that he was a vegetarian till halfway through the meal. If he (tell) me earlier I (cook) him something more suitable.
  3. I had no map; that’s why I got lost. If I (had) a map I (be) all right.
  4. It’s a pity he never patented his invention. If he (patent) it he (make) a lot of money.
  5. The club secretary is useless. He never tells anybody anything. We (not know) about this meeting if the chairman (not tell) us.

Answers:

  1. If he had not taken his gloves off, he wouldn’t have got frost bitten.
  2. He didn’t tell me that he was a vegetarian till halfway through the meal. If he had told me earlier I would have cooked him something more suitable.
  3. I had no map; that’s why I got lost. If I had had a map I would have been all right.
  4. It’s a pity he never patented his invention. If he had patented it he would have made a lot of money.
  5. The club secretary is useless. He never tells anybody anything. We wouldn’t have known about this meeting if the chairman hadn’t told us.

Note: When you are talking about something that might have happened in the past but did not happen, you use the past perfect tense in the conditional clause. In the main clause, you use `would have’.

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