The Third Conditional

The third conditional, also known as the "past unreal conditional", is an important structure used to talk about unreal, impossible, or improbable situations. This tutorial will guide you into the realm of the third conditional, presenting its structure, usage, and giving practical examples to enrich your understanding.

Structure of the Third Conditional

The third conditional is composed of two clauses – the "if" clause (the condition) and the main clause (the result). The structure is as follows:

If + past perfect, …would have + past participle.


  • If I had studied harder, I would have passed the exam.
  • If she had seen you, she would have said hello.
  • If we hadn't missed the bus, we would have been on time.

Note: The clauses can be interchanged without altering the meaning – the main clause can be put before the if clause.


  • I would have passed the examination if I had studied harder.
  • She would have said hello if she had seen you.
  • We would have been on time if we hadn't missed the bus.

Usage of the Third Conditional

The third conditional is used to describe a situation in the past that didn't happen. It expresses the hypothetical result (usually a regret, a criticism, or a suggestion) of that past unreal condition. When using the third conditional, we are imagining a different past.


  • If I had known you were coming, I would have baked a cake. (But I didn't know, so I didn't bake a cake.)
  • If he had listened to me, he wouldn't have made a mistake. (But he didn't listen, so he made a mistake.)

Variations in the Third Conditional

Apart from "would have", we can also use "could have" (to show possibility) and "might have" (to show uncertainty) in the result clause, according to the context.


  • If you had left earlier, you could have caught the train. (But you didn't leave earlier, so you didn't catch the train.)
  • If it had rained, we might have cancelled the picnic. (But it didn't rain, so we didn't cancel the picnic.)

Mixed Conditional

There's also a "Mixed Conditional" form which combines the second and third conditionals. Sometimes the result in the present relies on a condition in the past. The 'Mixed Conditional' is used to reflect such scenarios.


  • If we hadn't worked hard (past condition), we wouldn't be where we are today (present result).
  • If she hadn't fallen in love with him (past condition), she wouldn't be so sad now (present result).


Understanding the use of the third conditional is essential for mastering English grammar, as it allows us to portray hypothetical situations. These situations might not have happened, but by using the third conditional, we can express how they might have turned out under different circumstances. It is worth noting that it is important to practice these rules regularly, to analyze text and identify this conditional there, and to try to implement these rules in your speaking as well as writing.

Keep practicing, remain patient, and you will soon find that the correct usage of the third conditional has become second nature to you. After all, 'If you had not tried, you would not have succeeded'.

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