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Let’s have a look at the form and meaning of the third conditional:

Form:

if + had + past participle + would have + (without ‘to’)

If

Past condition

Result

If

had + past participle

would have + infinitive (without ‘to’)

If

I had won the lottery,

I would have bought a car.

If

James had become rich,

she would have married him.

If

it had snowed last July,

would you have been surprised?

If

you had come in the summer,

you could have stayed with us.

If

you had come in the summer,

you might have even got your own room.

 

Result

if

Past condition

had + past participle

if

had + past participle

I would have bought a car

if

I had won the lottery.

She would have married him

if

he had become rich.

Would you have been surprised

if

it had snowed last July?

You could have stayed with us

if

you had come in the summer.

You might have even got your own room

if

you had come in the summer.

 

Note: Sometimes, we change would with should, could, or might.

 

Meaning:

We use the third conditional to express an impossible connection between one imaginary past event (if + had + past participle) and another imaginary result (would have + infinitive [without ‘to’]). This conditional is known as the ‘impossible’ conditional, because it is used to talk about ‘impossible’ hypothetical situations in the past. Therefore, we are using a past tense to speak about the past condition, and the would have + infinitive (without ‘to’) to speak about the result.

Use the following exercises to test yourself.

1.

If (I/work/harder at school/get/better grades)

Question 1 answer as example: If I had worked harder at school I would have got better grades.

2.

If (she/had/the time/go/to see him)

3.

If (we/buy/that house/had/to rebuild the kitchen)

4.

If (we/catch/the train earlier/get/there on time)

5.

If (I/see/him at the meeting/ask/him)

6.

If (she/pay/more attention in the class/understand/the lesson)


 

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