Third Conditional: no possibility

Third Conditional: no possibility

The first conditional and second conditionals talk about the future. With the third conditional we talk about the past. We talk about a condition in the past that did not happen. That is why there is no possibility for this condition. The third conditional is also like a dream, but with no possibility of the dream coming true.
Last week you bought a lottery ticket. But you did not win. :-(

condition result
Past Perfect WOULD HAVE + Past Participle
If I had won the lottery I would have bought a car.
Notice that we are thinking about an impossible past condition. You did not win the lottery. So the condition was not true, and that particular condition can never be true because it is finished. We use the past perfect tense to talk about the impossible past condition. We use WOULD HAVE + past participle to talk about the impossible past result. The important thing about the third conditional is that both the condition and result are impossible now.
Sometimes, we use should have, could have, might have instead of would have, for example: If you had bought a lottery ticket, you might have won.
Look at some more examples in the tables below:
IF condition result
past perfect WOULD HAVE + past participle
If I had seen Mary I would have told her.
If Tara had been free yesterday I would have invited her.
If they had not passed their exam their teacher would have been sad.
If it had rained yesterday would you have stayed at home?
If it had rained yesterday what would you have done?
result IF condition
WOULD HAVE + past participle past perfect
I would have told Mary if I had seen her.
I would have invited Tara if she had been free yesterday.
Their teacher would have been sad if they had not passed their exam.
Would you have stayed at home if it had rained yesterday?
What would you have done if it had rained yesterday?

The third conditional (also called conditional type 3) is a structure used for talking about unreal situations in the past. This page will explain how the third conditional is formed, and when to use it.

The structure of a third conditional sentence

Like the other conditionals, a third conditional sentence consists of two clauses, an "if" clause and a main clause:

if clause

main clause


If I had studied harder,

I would have passed the exam.

I failed the exam, because I didn't study hard enough.
If the "if" clause comes first, a comma is usually used. If the "if" clause comes second, there is no need for a comma:

main clause

if clause

I probably would have passed the exam

if I had studied harder.
We use different verb forms in each part of a third conditional:

if clause

if + subject + past perfect verb*

main clause

subject + would (OR could, OR might) have + past participle
*The past perfect is formed with the auxiliary verb "had", and the past participle (or third form) of the verb.
Note also that third conditional forms can be contracted:

Full form

If I had studied harder, I probably would have passed the exam.

Contracted form

If I'd studied harder, I probably would've passed the exam.

Using the third conditional

The third conditional is used to talk about things which DID NOT HAPPEN in the past. If your native language does not have a similar construction, you may find this a little strange, but it can be very useful. It is often used to express criticism or regret:



If you had driven more carefully, you would not have had an accident.

Criticism: You had an accident because you didn't drive carefully enough.

If we had played a little better, we could have won the game.

Regret: We didn't play well, so we lost the game.

If you had saved your money, you could have bought a computer.

Criticism: You didn't save your money, so now you can't afford a computer.

If it had snowed, we could have gone skiing.

Regret: It didn't snow, so we couldn't go skiing.


3rd Conditionals are used for hypothetical events that did not happen

The third conditional talk about the past. We talk about a condition in the past that did not happen. That is why there is no possibility for this condition. The third conditional is also like a dream, but with no possibility of the dream coming true.

a.   If + past perfect + would have + past participle = for unreal past situations

Example:   If I had known you were here, I would have brought your files.

b.   If + past perfect + could / might have + past participle

Example:   If there had been another train to Tokyo, Aira might have arrived on time to the meeting.

Execise A:   Which is the implied meaning of each clause. Write T (true) or F (false). First is
                  already done.

1.   If you had done your homework, you would have known the answer.

__F__ a.   You have done your homework.
__T__ b.   You didn't know the answer.

2.   We wouldn't have missed the bus if it had been a few minutes left.

_____ a.   We missed the bus.
_____ b.   The bus was a few minutes late.

3.   If I hadn't save enough money, I wouldn't have been able to go to the U.S.

_____ a.   I didn't save enough money.
_____ b.   I wasn't able to go to the U.S.

Execise B:   Put the verbs in the right tense.

1.   My friend didn't go with us. If she _____ (go) with us, she _____ (take) lots of pictures.

2.   I didn't like Mike. If he _____ (be) nicer, I _____ (like) him.

3.   My partner spends all the money she earns. If she _____ (save) some money, she _____
      (go) to Canada.

4.   I _____(not ask) you to join us If _____ (know) about the accident.

5.   Why didn't you tell me? If you _____ (tell) me, I_____ (lend) you my camera.

6.   Mary was afraid of dogs. If she _____ (not be) afraid of dogs, she _____ (come) with us.

Execise C:   Change the sentences into 3rd Conditional.


I didn't know you were coming, I didn't wait.
If I had known you were coming, I would have waited.

1.   I wanted you to keep me company. I asked.

2.   I didn't learn Spanish. I didn't want to go to the Spain institute.

3.   I didn't have a better grade. I didn't work hard.

4.   I bought some expensive clothes. I am out of money.

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