Conditionals 2: The second, third and mixed conditionals

This item has been updated and greatly expanded from the Typical Errors in English feature in the book.

We continue our look at the various conditionals that can be found in the English language.

Second conditional (also known as a hypothetical condition)

We use the second conditional to talk about a situation that is unlikely to happen, perhaps impossible, or just imaginary. 

 

The construction is the if-clause:  if + past simple; main clause: would/could/might, etc. + infinitive without to.

 

If I won the lottery, I’d go around the world. (But I have not won the lottery, or I am unlikely to win the lottery, and so I can only imagine what would happen next.)

If I didn’t know how to drive, I would take lessons. (You can drive, so you consider what you would do if you could not.)

What do you think you could be doing now if you weren’t working? (You are working, but you are asked to imagine the likely situation now if this was not the case.)

If we had more money, we could go to the cinema more often. (We don't go to the cinema often because we can't afford it, but we would like to go.)

I could have been fired if I shouted at the boss! (But you didn't, but are now imagining the consequences if you did.)

Whether or not we paid the bill, there could still be problems with the delivery. (It is possible that delivery problems will  continue; the situation is unlikely to change as a result of paying the bill)

EXERCISE 4 (For a PDF copy of this exercise, click here)

Read the situations below and then rewrite the sentence using the second conditional, using the right form of the verb in brackets.

All the answers are at the bottom of the page.

1. I want to call Jane, but I don't know her number.

If I knew_________________________________________________________________________________

2. I'm not you, but I wouldn't buy that coat.

If I were (or was) you, _________________________________________________________________________________

3. He goes to bed too late. That's why he's always tired.

If he didn't ____________________________________________________________________________________

4. She doesn't have much time to cook dinner.

She could cook dinner ___________________________________________________________________

5. I have to work until late, so I can't meet you tomorrow.

I could________________________________ if I didn't _______________________________________

6. This tea is too sweet. It's got too much sugar.

If this tea ___________________________________________________________________________

7. I can't invite Fred to my party. He usually gets drunk! 

If I invited ______________________________, he would _____________________________________

 

Now no help!

8. I want to go outside, but it's raining.

______________________________________________________________________________

9. I'm looking after my baby sister. That's why I can't go out tonight. 

______________________________________________________________________________

10.  I can't play tennis because my arm hurts so much.

______________________________________________________________________________

 

Third conditional (also known as a hypothetical condition)

We use the third conditional to talk about a situation in the past which did not happen, but then imagining what we think would be the likely results if this act did happen.

 

The construction is the if-clause: if + past perfect; main clause: would/could/might + have + past participle.

 

If I had taken the bus, I wouldn’t have been late. (But I did not take the bus, and as a consequence I am late.)

You could have been killed if you hadn’t worn your seatbelt! (But you wore your seatbelt, thank goodness!)

I wouldn't have been fired if I hadn't shouted at the boss! (He shouted at the boss, and now he's lost his job.)

If Sid had studied harder at school, he could have got good marks.

The whole house would have needed to be renovated if we had bought it.

EXERCISE 5 (For a PDF copy of this exercise, click here)

1. I didn't know you went to Paris so I did not go with you.

But if I had known you went to Paris, _____________________________________________

2. I was driving, so I didn't drink any alcohol.

But if I had drunk ______________________________ I wouldn't have been able ___________________________

3. I didn't take a bus because I didn't have enough money.

If I had had _______________________________________________________________

4. I forgot my mobile phone so I couldn't call you.

I could have ________________________________________________________

5. David lent me some money so I could buy myself a new tablet.

But I couldn't have ____________________________________________________

6. I couldn't take any photographs because I didn't bring my camera.

If I _______________________________________________________________________

7. The weather wasn't very nice so we didn't go to the beach very often.

If the weather _____________________________________________________________

 

NOW NO CLUES!

8. I've painted my house red and it looks terrible. ___________________________________________________________________________

9. I couldn't contact you because I didn't have SKYPE. _______________________________________________________________________

10. I didn't practise hard enough so I didn't become a professional footballer.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

11. She didn't pay her bills, and now she hasn't got any electricity.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Mixed conditionals

Yes, mixed conditionals are, as we can put it, a mixed bag.

 

They are a mix of the second and third conditionals, sentences taking a mix of both forms and can be used to talk about the past, present and future. To be fair, very few of these are used in regular spoken English (like the future perfect continuous, but that’s another story), but they exist. Realistically, most natives don't worry about these. In many cases, there are alternative ways of stating the same thing that might be considered easier.

Here are six mixed conditional variations:

1. When we talk about an event in the past, but discuss the possible consequences in the present

  • If I had bought that house ten years ago, I would be a millionaire now. But I did not buy that house then, so I am not a millionaire now.

  • If I had studied German, I would have more opportunities to work abroad. But I didn't study German at school and so do not have more opportunities to work abroad.

  • If he had been more careful, he wouldn’t need to rewrite the test. But he was not careful when writing his first test, and now he has to do the test again.

  • If she hadn't been injured, she wouldn't be in hospital. But she was injured then, and so she is in hospital now.

2. When we talk about a situation in the present which could or may have had consequences in the past.

  • If you exercised regularly, you would have passed the fitness test. But you do not exercise regularly, so as a consequence you did not pass the fitness test.

  • If I didn't have to stay at work, I would have cooked you dinner yesterday. But I have to stay at work often and that’s why it was not possible to cook you dinner yesterday.

  • If Radek spoke French, he would have translated the letter. But Radek doesn’t speak French and that’s why he didn’t translate the letter.

3. When we talk about an event that happened in the past and then talk about the possibilities in the future.

  • If Brian had accepted the job offer, he would be working in Australia. But Brian didn't accept the job offer and as a result is not going to work in Australia.

  • If he had arranged the visit last week, he would be here this afternoon. But he didn't arrange the visit last week and so he isn't going to be here this afternoon.

  • If she hadn't wasted so much time, she would go to Australia next week. But she wasted time and so, as a consequence, she won't go to Australia next week.

 

4. When we talk about a situation in the present and the possible consequences of that situation in the future.

  • If I were you, I would be going to Australia next week. But I am not you, but I imagine the possibilities in the future if I were in your situation.

  • If Fred were more positive, the company would send him to London to talk to our clients. But Fred is not positive and the company won't send him to London to talk to our clients.

  • If Julie were happy, she would talk to you. But Julie isn’t happy and she won’t talk to you.

 

5. When we talk about a situation in the future, and then talking about that situation in the present.

  • If I was (or were) going to Australia, I would be very excited. But I am not going to go to Australia, and so I am not excited.

  • If Andrea was delivering a presentation tomorrow, she would be very nervous. But Andrea is not delivering a presentation tomorrow and that is why she is not nervous.

  • If Lily didn't order the tickets, everyone would be so disappointed. But Lily will order the tickets, and so everyone is very happy.

 

6. When we talk about a situation in the future, and then talk about its consequences in the past.

  • If she wasn’t cooking dinner tonight, I would have ordered a pizza. But she is cooking dinner tonight and so I am not ordering a pizza, or that is why I am not ordering a pizza.

  • If I weren't going to Paris next week, I would have gone to the party. But I am going to Paris next week, and that is why I’m not going to the party.

  • If Fred and Ginger weren't coming this Saturday, I would have planned a trip to the seaside. But Fred and Ginger are going to come this Saturday, and that is why I didn't plan a trip to the seaside.

EXERCISE 6 (For a PDF copy of this exercise, click here)

Try to match the if-clauses (1-18) with the main clauses (a-r). They have been split into three groups, so you only need to concentrate on 1-6 & a-f, 7-12 & g-l, and 13-18 & m-r. I am so kind.

 

In other words, match the two clauses together to make a (mixed) unreal conditional sentence.

1. If I had bought that house ten years ago,                                   a) I would have more opportunities to work abroad.

2. If Andy was delivering a presentation tomorrow,                      b) you would have passed the fitness test.

3. If you exercised regularly,                                                              c) I would be very excited.

4. If Fred were more positive,                                                            d) I would be a millionaire now.

5. If I had studied German,                                                                e) the company would send him to London to talk to our clients.

6. If I was (or were) going to Australia,                                             f) he would be very nervous.

 

7) If I weren't going to Paris next week,                                           g) he wouldn’t need to rewrite the test.

8) If Brian had accepted the job offer,                                             h) I would have planned a trip to the seaside.

9) If he had been more careful,                                                         i) I would have gone to the party.

10) If I didn't have to stay at work,                                                    j) he would have translated the letter.

11) If Radek spoke French,                                                                 k) he would be working in Australia.

12) If Fred and Ginger weren't coming this Saturday,                    l) I would have cooked you dinner yesterday.

 

13) If he had arranged the visit last week,                                       m) I would have ordered a pizza.

14) If she hadn't wasted so much time,                                           n) she would go to Australia next week.  

15) If I were you,                                                                                   o) he would be here this afternoon.

16) If Julie were happy,                                                                        p) everyone would be so disappointed.

17) If Lily didn't order the tickets,                                                      q) I would be going to Australia next week.

18) If she wasn’t cooking dinner tonight,                                         r) she would talk to you.

 

ANSWERS TO EXERCISES

EXERCISE 4

1. I want to call Jane, but I don't know her number. If I knew her number, I would call Jane.

2. I'm not you, but I wouldn't buy that coat. If I were (or was) you, I wouldn't buy that coat. 

3. He goes to bed too late. That's why he's always tired. If he didn't go to bed so late, he wouldn't be always tired.

4. She doesn't have much time to cook dinner. She could cook dinner if she had more time.

5. I have to work until late, so I can't meet you tomorrow. I could meet you tomorrow if I didn't have to work until late.

6. This tea is too sweet. It's got too much sugar. If this tea didn't have/hadn't got so much sugar, it wouldn't be so sweet.

7. I can't invite Fred to my party. He usually gets drunk! If I invited Fred to the party, he would get drunk!

 

8. I want to go outside, but it's raining. If it wasn't raining, I would go outside.

9. I'm looking after my baby sister. That's why I can't go out tonight. If I wasn't looking after my baby sister, I would go out tonight.

10.  I can't play tennis because my arm hurts so much. If my arm didn't hurt so much, I would be able to play tennis.

EXERCISE 5

1. I didn't know you went to Paris so I did not go with you. But if I had known you went to Paris, I would have gone with you.

2. I was driving, so I didn't drink any alcohol. But if I had drunk some alcohol, I wouldn't have been able to drive.

3. I didn't take a bus because I didn't have enough money. If I had had enough money, I would have taken a bus.

4. I forgot my mobile phone so I couldn't call you. I could have called you if I hadn't forgotten/had remembered my mobile phone.

5. David lent me some money so I could buy myself a new tablet. But I couldn't have bought myself a new tablet if David hadn't lent me some money.

6. I couldn't take any photographs because I didn't bring my camera.

If I had brought my camera, I could have taken some photographs.

7. The weather wasn't very nice so we didn't go to the beach very often. If the weather had been nicer, we would have gone to the beach more often.

 

8. I've painted my house red and it looks terrible. If I hadn't painted my house red, it wouldn't have looked terrible.

9. I couldn't contact you because I didn't have SKYPE. If I had had SKYPE, I could have contacted you.

10. I didn't practise hard enough so I didn't become a professional footballer. If I had practised hard enough, I would have/could have become a professional footballer.

11. She didn't pay her bills, and now she hasn't got any electricity. If she had paid her bills, she would have got some electricity.

EXERCISE 6

These are the most logical sentences. However, you may have come up with one or two different answers that may seem just as logical, but might be considered unusual... 

 

1. If I had bought that house ten years ago,                                   d) I would be a millionaire now.

2. If Andy was delivering a presentation tomorrow,                      f) he would be very nervous.

3. If you exercised regularly,                                                              b) you would have passed the fitness test.

4. If Fred were more positive,                                                            e) the company would send him to London to talk to our clients.

5. If I had studied German,                                                                a) I would have more opportunities to work abroad.

6. If I was (or were) going to Australia,                                             c) I would be very excited. 

 

7) If I weren't going to Paris next week,                                           h) I would have gone to the party.

8) If Brian had accepted the job offer,                                             k) he would be working in Australia.

9) If he had been more careful,                                                         g) he wouldn’t need to rewrite the test. 

10) If I didn't have to stay at work,                                                    l) I would have cooked you dinner yesterday.

11) If Radek spoke French,                                                                  j) he would have translated the letter.

12) If Fred and Ginger weren't coming this Saturday,                    i) I would have planned a trip to the seaside.

 

13) If he had arranged the visit last week,                                       o) he would be here this afternoon.

14) If she hadn't wasted so much time,                                           n) she would go to Australia next week.  

15) If I were you,                                                                                   q) I would be going to Australia next week.

16) If Julie were happy,                                                                        r) she would talk to you.

17) If Lily didn't order the tickets,                                                      p) everyone would be so disappointed.

18) If she wasn’t cooking dinner tonight,                                         m) I would have ordered a pizza.

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