Third Conditional

On this page, you will learn about the Third Conditional. We use it when talking about a past condition that cannot be fulfilled, because the action in the if-clause didn't happen.

For example, imagine that you missed a train (and as a result you were late for an important meeting). You could say:

  • If I hadn't missed the train, I wouldn't have been late for the meeting.

Do you know what tenses each of the clauses is in? Let's see:

  • The verb in the if-clause is in the Past Perfect Tense
  • The verb in the main clause is in the Perfect Conditional
If-clause (Past Perfect) Main clause (Perfect Conditional)
If I hadn't missed the train, I wouldn't have been late for the meeting.

More examples:

  • If I had known that you were coming, I would have met you at the railway station. (But I didn't know that you were coming so I didn't come)
  • If he had tried to leave the country, he would have been stopped at the frontier. (But he didn't try)
Variations

The form of the conditional can be a little different.

a) could or might may be used instead of would:

  • If the rescue crew had found him earlier, they could have saved his life. (ability)
  • If the rescue crew had found him earlier, they might have saved his life. (possibility)
  • If we had the necessary documents, we could have left at once. (ability or permission)

b) The continuous form of the Perfect Conditional may be used:

  • If I had had any money I would have been watching the film with my girlfriend that evening.

c) We can use the Past Perfect Continuous in the if-clause:

  • I wasn't wearing a seat belt. If I had been wearing one, I wouldn't have been seriously injured.

d) A combination of types 2 and 3 is possible:

  • The airplane I intended to catch crashed. If I had caught that airplane, I would have been killed or I would be dead now(type 3)
  • If he had worked harder at school, he would be working in a comfortable office now; he wouldn't be sweeping the streets. (But I didn't work hard at school and now he is sweeping the streets.)

e) Using inversion, we can place "had" before the subject, omitting the "if": For example, instead of saying:

  • If you had obeyed orders this disaster would not have happened.

we can say:

  • Had you told me about your problems, this disaster would not have happened.

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