Third Conditional in English Grammar

This conditional is sometimes called the UNREAL PAST. It is used for discussing things in the past that did not happen AND because they are in the past already, they can never be changed and are thus impossibilities.

You remember the last one, 2nd conditional, the one I told you was my favourite? At least that one offered a slim itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny chance of something happening in the future.

The 3rd conditional offers ZERO chance because we can’t time travel back in time to alter things. (If anyone does work out how to time-travel… TELL ME PLEASE!!! lol

Ok, so the formula for this one is: if + past perfect + modal verb + past perfect

e.g. If I had won the lottery, I would have bought a massive beach house in the Caribbean.


I didn’t win the lottery. So I couldn’t buy that big beach house. So the first clause is an impossibility and the second clause is also an impossibility.

We can also write it using different modal verbs:

  • If I had won the lottery, I might have bought a massive beach house in the Caribbean.
  • If I’d won the lottery, I could have bought a massive beach house in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, changing the modal verb doesn’t make it any less of an impossibility lol. If only…

I can also write it by swapping the clauses around and leaving out the comma:

  • I could have bought a massive beach house in the Caribbean if I’d won the lottery.

Ok, now it’s your turn again. Write out the missing parts to the following:

  1. If I’d heard the phone ring, I ________________________________________
  2. If I had arrived home first, I _________________________________________
  3. If I’d stopped the car sooner, I _______________________________________
  4. If I’d been alone when he said that, I _________________________________
  5. If I had studied for longer, I __________________________________________

Now practice writing them with the clauses swapped over and without the comma.

Think of a few more of your own to add to this list.

Do you think the third conditional is that much harder to learn than the other conditionals? It might have a slightly bigger ‘formula’ to follow, but is it really that much harder? If you get a chance, please let me know what you think in the comments box.

As with everything, keep practicing if you want to improve.

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