Third Conditional Sentences + Examples | English Grammar Lesson

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

The third conditional is used to express regret and talk about things we wish we could change about the past (but we can’t)! In this lesson, I’ll show you how to use it, share lots of examples, plus help you to practise!

The 3rd Conditional:
If + past perfect, perfect conditional (would have + past participle)

Stick about for the mini-quiz at the end of the lesson!

Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! Tell me have you ever wished that a situation from the past had been different? Maybe you wished that you’d behave differently or wished that you’d said yes to something that you didn’t?

Of course, you have! This is part of being human, isn’t it? We all go through it. So I know that you are going to love today’s lesson.

Today we are going to dive deep on some awesome grammar, the third conditional. Now I hope you’re not eye-rolling on me. Yes, this is a grammar lesson but it’s an incredibly useful one to talk about our regrets and our disappointments.

Sounds kind of grim, doesn’t it?

There are lots of useful ways to learn and practise with this grammar structure and I don’t know about you but I’m excited to get started. Let’s go!

Now you probably know that there are several types of conditional sentences in English. I’ve made lessons about many of them already.

But like all conditional sentences, the third conditional has two clauses. The ‘if’ clause and the main clause.

But unlike the zero, the first and the second conditionals this one talks about the past and specifically an unreal past, not a true past, an unreal one. We use the third conditional to imagine a situation in the past and the imaginary result which is also in the past, okay?

So it’s imaginary. It’s not real, it’s not true okay because we can’t change the past. Sometimes we wish we could but we can’t.

So that’s why you’ll often hear the third conditional being used to talk about regrets, things that we wish were different.

So let’s look at a few examples to get started.

  • If I had left earlier, I wouldn’t have missed my flight.

So I’m a bit upset about that, right?

I’m upset I missed my flight. I wish that I had have left my house a little bit earlier and not run late. I wish that I could go back in time and be on the plane but I can’t because my flight’s gone. There’s nothing that I can do about it now except buy another ticket.

Well we can use the third conditional to show how angry or how frustrated we are about this situation, right?

  • Now look if you hadn’t been so rude, they would have invited you back.

You were rude? Obviously, that didn’t work out well for you, did it?

Now they’re not going to invite you back again in the future. You can’t go back and change it now, can you? Whether you want to or not so I’m just gonna use the third conditional now to tell you off.

  • If I hadn’t been going so fast, I wouldn’t have been fined.

Yeah, I got fined which is annoying but it’s already happened. I can’t change it now, right? That’s something you definitely can’t change.

So we use the third conditional to talk about things that we regret, things that we wish we could change about the past and also to tell someone off for something that they did in the past.

So it’s pretty useful, right? It’s a really handy structure to have up your sleeve, to know.

All right so let’s talk about what it looks like now.

if + past perfect, perfect conditional

So to make the third conditional, we need a few things. We need ‘if’ and the past perfect. Then we need a comma and then we need the perfect conditional.

You might be wondering what the heck is the past perfect or the perfect conditional?

So think about it this way. The past perfect is subject with ‘had’ and the past participle verb.

  • If I had left earlier…
  • If you hadn’t been so rude…
  • If I hadn’t been going so fast…

Okay these are all examples of the past perfect.

Now the perfect conditional is subject with ‘would have’ and the past participle verb. So it’s just the present perfect with ‘would’ in front of it.

  • … I wouldn’t have missed my flight.
  • … they would have invited you back.
  • … I wouldn’t have got that ticket.

So let’s put the third conditional altogether.

We need ‘if’, the subject, ‘had’ and the past participle then our comma, very important, followed by our subject, ‘would have’ and the past participle.

if + subject + had + past participle , + subject + would + have + past participle

That’s the third conditional.

So let’s look at some examples to help it sink in a little, right?

  • If you had called me, I would have come.

Let’s do our third conditional checks first all right.

Are we talking about the past or the present here?
It was in the past but did it actually happen?

No, you didn’t call so I didn’t come. I wish that I could change this because I’d love to come.

  • If she had replied to my message, I wouldn’t have been so worried.

So I’m kind of telling her off here right? I’m a bit frustrated. Did she reply to my message? But was I worried? Yeah. I wish that she had so that I didn’t have to worry, you know.

  • If I had taken better care of myself, I wouldn’t have got sick.

So I’m expressing regret about the past here. I wish I’d taken better care of myself.

Now you’ll remember from some of my other conditional lessons that we can actually use different modal verbs in the main clause.

So we can replace ‘would have’ with other modals like ‘might’ and ‘could’.

might have > probability / certainty

So we use ‘might have’ to show probability or certainty.

  • If she’d studied more, she might have passed.

But she might have also failed again. We’re not sure. We’re not certain, right?

If we were certain about that imaginary result in the past, then we would use ‘would have’. That’s more certain.

Since we’re not exactly sure about what the result would have been, then using ‘might have’ is probably the better option.

could have > possibility / ability

Now we use ‘could have’ to talk about possibility and ability.

  • If you had lent me your car, I could have got there faster.

Now I’m not promising that I absolutely would have. I’m just saying that I would have been able to get there faster. You know, with a car I would have the ability to arrive sooner.

So now that we’ve broken it down a little bit, how are you feeling about the third conditional? Hopefully, it was some good reminders from the other conditional lessons.

And if you’re thinking something along the lines of if I’d seen this video earlier, I wouldn’t have been so confused. Well, I must be doing something right.

Practice mini-quiz

So now we’re going to put everything we just learned into practice with a little mini-quiz. My favourite! And I wonder if you’re gonna ace this little quiz or not. Let’s see.

Okay for the quiz, I’m gonna give you a few past situations and I want you to use the information that I’m sharing to write a sentence using the third conditional. Make sure you check the structure.

Make sure you’re writing it accurately. So write your answers in the comments down below and I’ll come down and check how you’ve done very soon.

And make sure you think carefully about which modal verb is the right one to use. We’ll go through the first one together okay.

So here’s the situation.

You had a job interview in the past but you didn’t prepare for it. You didn’t get the job and now you kind of regret not preparing for it. You wish that you prepared more.

So what’s a sentence that we can write here?

If I had prepared more, then maybe the result would have been different.

  • If I had prepared more, I might have got the job.

So now it’s your turn. I’m gonna read out some of these situations. I want you to pause the video if you need to to write your sentence, think about the structure. Clearly try and get that third conditional sentence right.

Here we go.

Situation one.

  • Your friend was in trouble
  • They needed help
  • You had the ability to help
  • But he never told you that he was in trouble

Situation two.

  • You showed up at a dinner party empty-handed
  • Everyone else had bought a dish to the party
  • You wish that you had brought something
  • But you didn’t know that you’re supposed to

Situation three.

  • He was talking on the phone while driving
  • He got pulled over by the police
  • He got a huge fine
  • Now he regrets using his phone in the car

Situation four.

  • Sarah went on a hike
  • She didn’t bring a rain jacket
  • It started raining
  • And now Sarah’s upset because she got really wet

Awesome work, guys! I know that conditionals can be a little overwhelming because of the subtle differences between all of the different types of conditionals but also the significant differences in meaning.

So hopefully with each of my conditional lessons, it’s becoming a little clearer. So if you’re enjoying this series, make sure you share this lesson, like the lesson, share it with anyone that you think will find it useful.

I’m sure there are plenty of other students out there who are just as frustrated with conditionals as you are.

So once you’ve done that, come and check out these lessons right here so we can keep practising together. I’ll see you soon!

Links mentioned in the video

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