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Third Conditional

 
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    Third conditional: Unreal situations in the past

    The third conditional is used to talk about hypothetical situations in the past and the consequences of the unreal situation also in the past. The 3rd conditional is commonly used to talk about the past in a personal way, as in how my life could have been different, or history in general, as in how the word would have been different.

     

    If + had + past participle + object , would/could/might + have + past participle

     

     

    If' clause

    Main clause

    Explanation

    If she hadn't met him,

    she wouldn't have married him.

    She' did meet him and we can see how her life would have been different later because she did marry him.

    If I had worked harder at school,

    I could have become a surgeon.

    This person did not work hard at school so is discussing the possibilities of their life because they did not become a surgeon.

    if the American dream had failed

    Capitalism might not have become so popular.

    The American dream, you could argue, did not fail so Capitalism became popular. The third conditional is used here to talk about the world could have been different.

     

     

    Describing the past differently

    To discuss the consequences of the unreal past we can use would have + past participle' to talk about a hypothetical situation after the unreal if clause'. We can also use could have + past participle' to talk about an unreal possibility in the past moreover we can use might have + past participle' to describe a very uncertain consequence after the unreal if clause'.

     

     

    If' clause

    Main clause

    Explanation

    If he hadn't been killed,

    the world would have been a very different place.

    In this sentence we can see that actuallyhe' was killed so we start the sentence talking about a world where he was not, moving to describe an imaginary, different world whichwould have been different'

    If Americans hadn't walked on the moon first,

    Russians could have done.

    The first hypothetical situation described here is the Americans not walking on the moon first, which of course they did. Then the third conditional is used to discuss a possibility, ‘could have' in the past of the Russians getting to the moon first instead.

    If he had liked the dog,

    he might have kept the dog.

    This time we are describing a world in which somebody liked a dog (they did not) and the small probability of the dog being kept in this situation (which did not happen either)

     

     

    Warning!

     

    It's important to remember NOT to put the modal verb (would have', could have' or might have') in the conditional or if' clause when using conditional sentences:

     

    • If I had had more brothers , I would have played more sports (NOT If I would have had more brothers, would have played more sports)

     

     

    Flexibility in conditional sentences

    As with all conditional sentences, the clauses can beswapped' and meaning stays the same:

     

    • If I had lived in America, I could have become famous = I could have become famous if I had lived in America

     

     

    Question forms

    As we have seen so far the third conditional can be used to describe hypothetical situations in the past as well as the past consequences which are also imaginary. This function is also evident in the question forms. Note the change in word order when questions are constructed.

     

    • What would you have done if the bus hadn't arrived?

    • What country might you have visited if you had had more money?

    • If you hadn't learned how to drive, how could you have got here?

    • If your dog had eaten it, would you have called a doctor or a vet?

     

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