How to understand 3rd Conditionals now and easily!

We use the Third Conditional to talk about a situation or condition in the past and its result. IF we could change the past, we could change the result. Of course, we can’t change the past, so the Third Conditional is always about the impossible past.  


IF + Past Perfect, *WOULD + **Present Perfect

*WOULD + **Present Perfect  IF + Past Perfect


*We can also use COULD or MIGHT.

** Always use ‘have’ because you must follow a modal (would, could, might etc) with a base infinitive.


If I had known you were in the hospital, I would have visited you.

I would have visited you if I had known you were in the hospital.

I didn’t know that you were in the hospital so I didn’t visit you. I can’t change the past. It’s impossible now.

I didn’t know that you were sick so I didn’t call you. Reality

If I had known that you were sick, I would have called you. Impossible now

More examples of Third Conditional:

If Donald Trump had not won the 2016 USA Presidential Election, Hillary Clinton  would have become the first female USA president.

* This is a condition in the past that did not happen. There is no possibility for the condition so there is no possibility for the result.

* The reality is that Donald Trump did win the USA Presidential Election, so Hillary Clinton did not in 2016 become the first female USA president.

The Titanic might have had time to avoid the iceberg if it had not been travelling at full speed.

If the Titanic had not crashed into the iceberg, the ship would not have sunk.

If the Titanic had had enough life boats, more lives would have been saved.

* The reality is that the Titanic was travelling at full speed when it crashed into an iceberg. It sank and because there were too few lifeboats, more than 1,500 people died.


We often use the Third Conditional to express regret and criticism. Can you imagine how the people who designed the Titanic felt after they heard that it had sunk? There would have been a lot of blame and “If only … ” statements:

     If only we had checked the weather conditions, …  the Titanic wouldn’t have crashed.

     If only the ship had been slower, …                              the Titanic wouldn’t have crashed.

     If only they had seen the iceberg sooner, …               the Titanic wouldn’t have crashed.

ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ

Video #1:

We also use the Third Conditional to express the good fortune that resulted from actions in the past. Have a look at the following scene from the American TV show “Once Upon a Time”. Click here and follow the instructions and try to get the sentence structure in your head! Note that the missing word in contractions like: “If I’d forgotten …” is had – “If I had forgotten … “

Regina tells David the story of how she found him on the side of the road, unconscious. The doctor said that if she’d found him ten minutes later, it would have been too late. 

That situation is impossible now. The reality is that she found him and she saved his life.

ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ ψ

Video #2:

Click here for a video from British Council with several examples of Third Conditional.

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We use contractions a lot in spoken English, so don’t expect to hear ‘had’ and ‘have’ clearly!

I had + past participle ⇒ I’d + past participle

would have ⇒ would’ve ⇒ sounds like: would.ev or woulda

would not have ⇒ wouldn’t’ve ⇒ sounds like: would.nt.ev

could have ⇒ could’ve ⇒ sounds like: could.ev or coulda

might have ⇒ might’ve ⇒ sounds like: might.ev or mighta


Click here for more examples from the Perfect English Grammar website and for practice exercises.

For even more practice, click here for the website English Exercises.

Read my posts on First Conditional and Second Conditional

Jared Rice @   Ubud, Bali – If I had fallen off the swing, I would have been killed! ……………………………………………………………………….

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This entry was posted in Grammar, IELTS, Intermediate (Level 4), TOEFL, TOEIC, Upper Intermediate (Level 5) and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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