Third conditional | Learn English grammar

Continuing our series of video lessons on English conditional sentences, we're going to focus on third conditional in order to learn how to talk about unreal or hypothetical situations in the past.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

Hi everyone, in this video lesson we're going to look at how we express unreal or hypothetical situations in the past. In order to do this we use the third conditional. So in this video we're going to look at some examples to help us understand how we use the third conditional and we'll also look at the form, the structure of the third conditional so you can understand how to use it yourself. And then at the end we'll do a short quiz so you can practise what you've learnt.

So, talking about an unreal situation in the past, this means we're talking about something that didn't happen in the past. We're talking about something that maybe we regret, we feel bad about and we would like to change but unfortunately you can't change the past. But you can't talk about it! And that's why we use the third conditional.

OK, so let's look at the third conditional using a very common example.

“If I had studied harder, I would have passed my exams”.

So, firstly what does this mean? Did I study harder? Did I pass my exams? The answer is 'no' to both questions. I didn't study hard, maybe I was a lazy student and as a result I didn't pass my exams. How do I feel? Well, I probably feel quite bad, I probably feel regret. I probably wish that I could change the past or go back in the past and change things and do things in a different way, but obviously I can't. I don't have a time machine! So that's why we use the third conditional. We can talk about something that didn't happen in the past. An unreal or hypothetical situation in the past.

“If I had studied harder, I would have passed my exams”.

Let's look at the structure of the third conditional sentence. How do we form the third conditional? So in the 'if' clause we use 'if' plus the past perfect. So 'if' plus 'had' plus the past participle. And in the main clause we use 'would' plus 'have' plus the past participle.

“If I had studied harder, I would have passed”.

But we don't need to just use 'would' in the main clause. You can use other modal verbs as well. So, for example:

“If I had had a car, I could have driven you home”.

I didn't have a car. I wasn't able to drive you home. Or…

“If I had had a car, I might have driven you home”.

Again, I didn't have a car, so I wasn't able to drive you home. Maybe I regret the fact that I couldn't drive you home, I wasn't able to drive you home because at that time in the past I didn't have a car. I had no way to drive you home. So there are different ways that you can express an unreal past. Something that didn't happen in the past.

OK, ready for a bit of practice? I'm going to give you a few unreal situations in the past and I want you to complete these third conditional sentences using answers for yourself. A really good way to practise a language is to use the language to talk about yourself, because when it's more personal it's much easier for you to understand and for you to remember. So I'll pause after each 'if' clause and then I want you to think of the main clause yourself. After, I'll give a suggestion and you can see if your idea was the same or similar to my suggestion. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, this is your personal answer but look at the structure and make sure that you get the structure of the third conditional right.

Again, remember how we use contractions in English and it's the same in the third conditional. So it's more common we would say:

“If I'd studied harder' rather than 'If I had studied harder”.

“If I'd studied harder, I would've passed my exams”. Rather than “I would have passed my exams”.

OK, so that's it. That's the third conditional. It's a bit more complex than the other conditional forms but you are expressing a more complex idea. An unreal situation in the past. A hypothetical situation. This is probably one of the most complicated structures in English, so if you get this right and you can use this well then everything else in English should seem a lot easier. It's a good idea to watch this video again because it will be easier the next time you watch.

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Good luck, keep practising and I'll see you in the next video.

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