The Third Conditional

The third conditional in English is another example of an if-sentence that is frequently used in everyday conversations. This implies that these sentences have an ‘if’ in them and that there is a condition and a result of that condition. In this article, you’ll find a full overview of what the third conditional is, how to form it and there are also some exercises about the third conditional.

Third conditional

The third conditional is used to fantasize about things that did not happen in the past and/or imaginary situations in the past. This conditional is used to think about a possible result/outcome of something that did not happen. You’re wondering what if…

Take a look at the examples below:

  • If I had studied, I would have passed the test.
  • We would have won the race if we had trained harder.

Third conditional form

Before knowing which tense to use, it’s important to know that conditional sentences consist of two parts: the if-clause and the main clause. The if-clause is the clause where you would find ‘if’ and the main clause is the result of the condition (the rest of the sentence). Take a look at the examples below to see the difference:

If-clauseMain clause
If he had given me a gift,I would have been happy.
If you had listened,you wouldn’t have been in trouble!
Third Conditional Taalhulp Engels

When using a third conditional, you should pay close attention to the tenses of the verbs. The verb in the if-clause needs to be in the past perfect. For the verb in the main clause, you need would + have + past participle. Take a look at the examples below:

If-clauseMain clause
If they had gone to school,they would have had a better job.
If I had paid attention in class,I would have made a better exam.
If she had made dinner,we would have been happy.

Keep in mind that the order of the clauses can be different. It’s perfectly possible that the main clause comes first:

  • They would have had a better job if they had gone to school.
  • I would have made a better exam if I had paid more attention in class.


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