Compare ALL English Conditional Sentences (with examples!)

Lesson Overview

Compare & practise ALL the English Conditional Sentences in this complete conditionals grammar lesson… It can be difficult to make a decision about which English conditional to use but in this lesson, you’ll get to compare and practise ALL of them! We’ll cover the zero, first, second, third and MIXED conditional sentences. It’s going to be great!

Sit back, and settle in (this is a 50 minute lesson, but I promise it will be worth your while!)

Grab your free PDF workbook (the link is down below!)


Video Transcript

Well, hey there. I’m Emma from mmmEnglish.

Today we are going to go through everything you need to know about English conditionals. We’ll cover the zero conditional, the first conditional, the second, the third, and mixed conditional sentences all here in this one lesson. So there’s a fair bit to cover, but by the end of this lesson, you are going to have everything you need to know about English conditional sentences.

Plus, I’ve made you a complete workbook that you can download and use to practise everything you learn in this lesson. It’s completely free so that you can study and practise to your heart’s content. Just follow the link down in the description.

But what I recommend is that you stay right here, you get your notebook out, stay focused, and you do your best to stay with me through the whole lesson. I know it’s long, I know it’s hard, but after that you can go and take the quiz to test what you know and also find out which conditional sentences you might need to review and practise again. Are you ready? Let’s dive in.


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The Zero Conditional

The zero conditional is also called the factual or the real conditional because we use it to talk about truths and facts. Things that are real in the world.

We also use it to talk about habits and rules and to give instructions that are the result of something else happening first.

So in other words, if this happens then this is the result always okay? It’s a fact. It’s the truth. It’s just how it is. It’s what happens.

Let’s take a closer look at what it looks like because it’s really simple.

We use the present simple in both clauses. Now why does it say ‘if’ or ‘when’ can be used in the if clause? It’s a good question.

In the zero conditional, you can use either ‘if’ or ‘when’ in the if clause and the meaning with either word is pretty similar.

But we use ‘if’ when there is a chance that the action will happen but it might not happen as well okay? If it does happen then we know exactly what the result will be.

  • If I workout, I feel healthier.

So I workout and the result is pretty obvious. When I do workout, I feel healthier, I feel better about myself. It’s true.

But that doesn’t mean that I do it all the time right? I don’t always feel healthy especially if I don’t workout.

We use ‘when’ when we know for sure that that action is going to happen. We might not know exactly when it’s going to happen but we know that it will okay.

  • When I workout, I feel healthier.

So I’ve removed the possibility that it’s not going to happen. There’s no question about it. I will workout.

The specific time doesn’t matter, we just know that it’s going to happen in the future so it’s a subtle difference, very, very subtle.

And the same difference actually applies in the first conditional. We can use ‘if’ or ‘when’ as well in the first conditional.

But we’ll get to that.

Back to forming the zero conditional. Let’s look at a few examples to help us do that.

  • When the sun sets, it gets dark.
  • If you leave milk out, it spoils.
  • If the power goes out, we can’t watch TV.

So these are all facts and truths, right?

Now what about this sentence?

  • In winter it’s cold.

Is it a zero conditional sentence? It’s a fact. It has the present simple verb but it’s not a conditional sentence.

Can you tell me why? We don’t have two clauses. It is a fact but we don’t have the condition and the result clause. It’s just a present simple sentence.

But what about now?

  • If it’s cold, light the fire.

Now we’ve got a condition and the result and this is a good example of how the zero conditional can be used to give instructions. And I’m using the imperative form to do that. I’m telling you what to do, instructing you.

We also use the zero conditional to talk about rules.

  • Children can swim, if an adult is with them.

And we use it to talk about habits.

  • If it’s hot, I go to the beach.

This is something that I usually do. It’s a habit right? It happens often.

Can you see how in all of these examples that the two separate parts of the sentence are connected? We’re stating a fact or a truth in the main clause but it’s only possible on the condition that the if clause occurs.

The First Conditional

So now we know that the zero conditional is the factual or the real conditional. What about the first conditional? It’s also called the possible conditional.

Now we’re not talking about facts anymore okay? Things that are absolutely one hundred percent true. Now we’re talking about possible future results. They might happen but they might not happen as well.

So can you guess when it might be useful to use the first conditional.

A time when you’re thinking about what’s possible in the future.

We can use it to talk about predictions, superstitions, plans, promises, offers, suggestions and warnings like there’s a lot of different ways that we can use the first conditional, right?

So all of these things talk about what is likely to happen in the future. A likely outcome.

So in the first conditional we’re not just using the present simple anymore, right? Because we’re talking about the future.

In the ‘if’ clause, we still use a present simple verb but in the main clause, we use the future tense. Will.

If this thing happens then this will likely happen. It will probably happen. We can’t be absolutely sure. You think so.

  • If you don’t eat now, you’ll be hungry later.
  • If she doesn’t call, I’ll be annoyed.

And just like in the zero conditional, we can still use ‘if’ or ‘when’ in the if clause and it depends on how sure we are that something is gonna happen.

And ‘when’ tells us that we’re very, very confident that the action in the if clause is going to happen and the result in the main clause is the most likely outcome.

  • When the sun sets, it will get cold.

Now what about this sentence?

  • If aliens arrive on earth, I will greet them!

Now I’ll give you a clue. There is something not quite right about this sentence, something about it sounds strange but it has a present simple verb and ‘will’ with the base verb following so it looks right but this isn’t a possible situation.

but this isn’t a possible situation. I could be unintentionally starting a debate about the existence of alien life right here but this is more of a hypothetical situation right?

So it would be better to use the second conditional to talk about this hypothetical situation.

Zero or First – What’s the difference?

So we talked about the zero conditional. We’ve talked about the first conditional but what’s the difference between them?

And why would you choose one over the other? Let’s take a look.

  • If you leave the milk out, it spoils.
  • If you leave the milk out, it will spoil.

Which one’s correct? It’s a trick question.

They’re both correct. They’re both possible.

But choosing to use the zero or the first conditional does change the meaning of the sentence a little.

So in the first sentence, we’re stating a general fact. It’s true, right? In general, in life, you know at any moment, when you leave milk out of the fridge it spoils.

So I might use the zero conditional to explain to a child that milk spoils when it’s not in the fridge, right?

The child didn’t know that fact beforehand. I’m telling them so that they know in the future.

When I use the first conditional sentence, I’m telling you about a possible outcome based on the current situation so it’s like advice or warning about a present situation. Something that is specific.

So imagine that you’ve just made a coffee. You left the milk on the bench and then you’ve gone off to the living room to watch some telly.

So I’m using the first conditional now to warn you or remind you about what might happen if you don’t put the milk in the fridge.

So I’m not telling you a general life lesson or a fact about life. You probably already know that milk spoils but I’m giving you a suggestion or a reminder that you should put it in the fridge. Now look at a few more comparisons.

  • When the sun sets, it gets cold.

Compare it to: When the sun sets, it will get cold.

So I’m using the zero conditional again to talk about a general fact, all right? All around the world in general, it gets colder when the sun sets.

But if you’re about to leave the house and you’re wearing just a t-shirt and I might be a little bit worried that you’re going to get cold, then I might use the first conditional sentence to remind you that, you know, in a few hours when the sun sets. It’s probably going to get cold and maybe you should bring a jacket.

Let’s try one more.

  • If she doesn’t call, I’m annoyed.
  • If she doesn’t call, I’ll be annoyed.

So in the first situation, the zero conditional is used because it’s something that happens a lot right?

She often doesn’t call and every time I’m annoyed. Every time she doesn’t call I’m annoyed.

It’s a really general statement about how I feel on many occasions.

In the first conditional example though, I’m talking about a specific phone call. Maybe I’m waiting for a colleague to call. I’m waiting for some information that I need to finish writing my report by the deadline and she promised to call me this afternoon.

So I’m not talking about her general calling habits. I don’t always get annoyed with her but I am talking about right now in this moment.

You know I’m worried that my colleague’s not going to call and I’m just expressing that it’s really annoying because I’m trying to finish my report.

Practice

Okay I hope that you’re feeling a bit more confident about using the zero and first conditional now because it’s time to practise.

So what I’m gonna do is I’ll give you a situation and you’re gonna have to write either a zero conditional sentence or a first conditional sentence to go with it, whichever one you think is the most appropriate one right.

I want you to write your sentences in the comments below. I’ll jump down and check them for you You can write any of your own sentences if you want me to check them but for now let’s start with this one.

You’re a teacher and you want to warn your students that they need to do their homework or tomorrow there’s going to be trouble. They’re going to get in trouble, right?

So should you use the zero or the first conditional?

Good. It should be the first conditional.

Now this is a warning about a specific situation, not a general truth because we’re talking about tomorrow okay so you could say something like:

  • If you don’t do your homework, you’ll be in trouble.

The Second Conditional

Let’s get started with this lesson. When can you use the second conditional?

We use it in a few ways:
1. to imagine that our lives or someone else’s life is different
2. we use it to ask hypothetical questions
3. to give advice
4. and to give reasons why you can’t do something

So you might have practised a little with the first two but the third and the fourth are both interesting and different ways to use the second conditional. So I’m really excited to get into those.

1. To imagine life is different

But let’s start with number one. We use the second conditional to talk about things in the future that are unlikely or things that are impossible in the present.

So we use it to imagine and to dream that the present situation is different than it really is. Now this could be because it’s impossible now or because it’s really unlikely to become real in the future, not completely impossible but unlikely.

So with the second conditional, we say if this happened then that would happen. So for example.

If I had enough money, I would buy a house.

If the present situation was different then I would do that.

If I won the lottery, I’d buy a house.

Now this is an unlikely event in the future right because it’s unlikely I’m gonna win the lottery. Possible but unlikely. Before we keep going with the other ways to use the second conditional, let’s spend a little bit of time focusing on what it looks like.

Conditional sentences all have an if clause and a main clause which is sometimes also called the result clause because it can only happen if the if clause occurs. It’s a condition, right? If this happens, then that happens.

Now what exactly makes a conditional sentence the second conditional?

So the second conditional uses a past simple verb in the if clause then ‘would’ followed by the infinitive verb in the main clause.

If she lived in London, she would have English friends.

The if clause is the condition. Does she live in London? No, we’re talking about a hypothetical situation here right so the result clause suggests what would be different and would tells us that we’re imagining the result or you know she would have English friends. It’s not real. She doesn’t have English friends now but it could happen if she lived in London.

If she lived in London, she would have English friends.

Now you can definitely make one or both clauses negative in a second conditional sentence.

If I didn’t want to go, I would tell you.
If I didn’t finish my homework, I wouldn’t tell my teacher.

2. hypothetical questions

And of course, we can ask second conditional questions too. Hypothetical questions to ask someone to imagine what they would do in a different situation. So these situations are not real but it’s kind of fun to ask these types of questions right? It really helps to keep conversations going sometimes.

What would you do if you quit your job?
If you won a million dollars, would you travel the world?
If you only had one day in Singapore, what would you do?

See how fun these types of questions can be?

Choose one of them to answer in the comments below but make sure you write your answer as a full second conditional sentence to practise the structure okay?

If I only had one day in Singapore, I would…

Now you can actually use ‘could’ in the if clause to ask a similar question so you would be saying if you were able to or if it were possible to.

If you could travel to any country, where would you go?

Now notice that when you use ‘could’ in the if clause, the verb that follows ‘could’ is in the infinitive form not in the past simple and that’s because it’s a modal verb right? Standard English grammar rule. After modal verbs, we always have the infinitive.

3. give advice

Now we’ve been talking about hypothetical situations so far but what are these other uses because we can use the second conditional to give advice and if you think about it, when someone asks you for advice, you usually try to imagine what you would do in their situation and share that with them. So for example.

If I were you, I’d talk to my boss before I quit my job.
If I were her, I’d break up with him.

Now if you’re wondering why in both of those examples I was using ‘were’ with the subject I, I’m going to talk about that in a few minutes.

4. give reasons why

But lastly, you can use the second conditional to give reasons why you can’t do something. You’ve probably already noticed that English speakers are usually quite polite to each other.

Instead of just saying ‘no’ we often try and soften our responses by explaining why we can’t do something and sometimes you might just want to explain a situation a little more so the second conditional can really help you to do this. So for example.

If I had the money, I’d lend it to you.

I don’t have to explain myself any further here. This sentence already explains that I don’t have the money so I can’t help. But it suggests that maybe you want to, that maybe you would if you could.

If I wasn’t so busy, I’d invite you over for dinner.

But I am really busy so I can’t invite you over.

So we’ve covered what the second conditional looks like and when you can use it but now I want to share some extra tips to help you understand it better and to help you use it accurately.

So the first one I want to mention is that ‘if’ is a conjunction, right? The purpose of conjunctions is to join two sentences or two different clauses together. There’s a really strong relationship between the two clauses in a conditional sentence, right? They’re really connected. The if clause contains a condition and the main clause contains the result, right? They rely on each other.

Now you may know that with all conditional sentences, you can change the order of your clauses. When this happens, it doesn’t change the meaning but there is an important punctuation change that you need to make.

If it stopped raining, I would go for a walk.
would go for a walk if it stopped raining.

Now the meaning in these two sentences is exactly the same but notice that when the main clause comes first, we don’t include that comma before the if clause. Now to be honest this is really only significant if you’re sitting an English exam or you’re doing academic writing. You’re going to get marked down for that type of punctuation error. But generally, that’s not really something you need to lose sleep over.

Now in spoken English, the subject and ‘would’, they’re usually contracted.
I’d
you’d
she’d
he’d
they’d
we’d

Now it’s much easier to say this type of sentence quickly and it helps you to sound a little more relaxed as well. But these contractions, very common in spoken English, common in informal written English but you shouldn’t be using contractions in formal written English, right? Just steer clear completely.

Now one of the most interesting parts about the second conditional is that it breaks some standard be verb grammar rules, right? We can actually use ‘were’ instead of ‘was’ with I, he, she and it, right?

Both of them are grammatically correct but I guess ‘were’ is a little more formal alright so we would use it in more formal situations.

If I was you, I would break up with him.
If I were you, I would break up with him.

Both of those sentences are the same.

If she was taller…
If she were taller… she would be an air hostess.

So again we can use either, it’s totally okay, ‘were’ is a little more formal.

Today we’re going to go a little deeper on the first and the second conditional. I’m going to give you lots of examples to help you understand when to use the first and when to use the second.

Plus I’ll also be talking about how to use conditionals without ‘if’ which is pretty shocking, I know because ‘if’ is the star of conditional sentences, you know. But actually, you can use other words in place of ‘if’ as well so I’m going to go through all of that right here during this lesson.

So I want you to tell me. What’s the difference between the first conditional and the second conditional?

First conditional

So the best way to think about it is the first conditional is real.

We use it to talk about things that are possible in the future and there’s a likely chance of it happening.

if + present simple, will + verb

So to make the first conditional, it’s simple. We use the present simple verb in our ‘if’ clause and we use the future tense ‘will’ in our main clause so we use ‘will’ along with a bare infinitive verb.

  • If I miss the bus, I will take a taxi.
  • If they lose the game, they won’t go to the finals.
  • If you get too close to the flames, you‘ll get burned.

So notice that with all of these examples, these are real. They are possible and they’re likely to happen in the future.

Second conditional

Now when we move to the second conditional, we actually have to leave the real world, the actual world behind us. Because although there is a possibility of the result happening, when we use the second conditional, it tells us that the action is quite unlikely so it’s often called the unreal tense.

So we use the second conditional to talk about imaginary situations in the present so these are unreal situations. We also use it to talk about unlikely future outcomes as well.

if + past simple, would + verb

So it looks like ‘if’ and the past simple in our ‘if’ clause and then ‘would’ with the bare infinitive verb following in our main clause.

  • If I missed the bus, I would take a taxi.
  • If they lost the game, they wouldn’t go to the finals.
  • If you got too close to the flames, you‘d get burned.

Wait a second. These examples look pretty similar to the first conditional examples right? So with just a couple of little edits, we have subtly changed these results to seem less likely.

Suddenly we’ve got a set of hypothetical or imaginary situations and their results but those results are unlikely to actually happen right? Such is the second conditional.

Many ideas can be correctly expressed in English using both the first and the second conditional sentence structure but each type of sentence changes the meaning noticeably so you really need to be careful about which type of sentence structure you’re using. You’ve got to carefully choose.

First vs Second Conditional

So let’s look at a couple of examples to help you out. So we’ve got

  • If I miss the bus, I will take a taxi.
  • If I missed the bus, I would take a taxi.

Now in the first example, this is real and possible. It’s based on an actual situation. Just imagine that you are walking down the street quite quickly towards the bus stop because it’s actually the exact time that the bus is supposed to arrive and there is a chance it’s pulling up at the bus stop right now.

You’re hoping that it’s not because you’re going to be late otherwise right? You still want to make it to work on time.

But in your head, as you’re walking you’re coming up with a backup plan, right, a plan B. Here’s what you’re going to do.

  • If I miss the bus, I will take a taxi.

So this situation is based on a real-life scenario right. Something that is likely to happen.

There’s a good chance that that bus has already come to the bus stop and you’re not there.

But the second example in the second conditional, totally imaginary. Maybe I’ve got no plans at all to take the bus, maybe I don’t even take the bus to work. Or perhaps I’m extremely punctual. I’m almost never late to the bus.

But for whatever reason, this thing, the outcome, is very unlikely to happen and we know that because we’re using the second conditional.

So you can see how powerful this decision is right? The grammar structure that you choose influences the meaning of your sentence.

Let’s do a few more examples together just to make sure you’ve got it.

  • If I run out of butter, I‘ll just use oil.

So again imagine, imagine that you’re baking and there isn’t much butter left.

You can’t be bothered going to the shops so I’ve got a plan. If I run out of butter, I know what I’m going to do and this is a likely event right.

  • If I ran out of butter, I’d just use oil.

Now this is a hypothetical situation. I’m not talking about a specific baking event that’s happening now. I’m just talking about what I would hypothetically do if this ever happened to me while I was baking. I could be giving advice to someone who’s asking.

  • If I ran out of butter, I’d just use oil.

You won’t notice the difference.

  • If she finds a dog on the street, she’ll adopt it.

She loves dogs, right? She has plans to adopt a dog. In fact, she’s looking for a dog and there are lots of street dogs in her area. So it’s quite likely that if she finds a dog on the street that doesn’t have a home, it’s quite likely that she’ll adopt it.

  • If she found a dog on the street, she’d adopt it.

So again, she loves dogs. Perhaps there’s actually not many street dogs in her area which makes the outcome quite unlikely right?

  • If she were taller, she would play basketball.

Okay so this is the second conditional right and she’s imagining what she would do if she had been born taller but she wasn’t right? She can’t change her height.

So this situation has to be unreal. So for that reason, be careful because we can’t write a version of this in the first conditional.

There isn’t a likely chance or a likely outcome where this would happen right? She can’t change the way that she is, however, we can make a couple of changes to make it possible.

We can say you know if we’re talking about a child who is still growing then it’s possible right but we might have to change the verb and say:

  • If she grows taller, she will play basketball.

It’s really important to keep in mind that many ideas can be expressed in the first or the second conditional depending on whether they’re real or imaginary. But not all ideas can be expressed in both tenses right so be careful about that. Real versus imaginary.

Hopefully, you’re starting to feel pretty good about the difference between the first and the second conditional right? But I’ve got one extra thing that I want you to keep in mind. So take a look at this sentence here.

Unless it rains soon, the lake will dry up.

Is it a conditional sentence? It has two clauses. It has a present tense verb in the first clause. It has ‘will’ and the base verb in the main clause but it doesn’t have the word ‘if’.

It actually doesn’t matter. This sentence is still a conditional sentence.

A first conditional sentence and there are a couple of very specific words that you can use to replace ‘if’ in the first and also the second conditional sentence structure. It’s still a conditional sentence but the word that you choose, of course, has the ability to change the meaning of your sentence slightly.

  • Unless it rains soon, the lake will dry up.

Or

  • If it rains soon, the lake won’t dry up.

Both of these sentences are okay. They’re great but of course, the change affects the meaning of our sentence slightly. So we need to be aware of that.

First and Second Conditionals without ‘if’

So you can definitely replace ‘if’ with the word ‘unless’ but the meaning is slightly different. It means if not or except if.

Unless

And you can use ‘unless’ in the first and the second conditional sentence structure but it can’t be used to talk about past situations that can’t be changed right so you can’t use ‘unless’ in the third conditional sentence structure for example.

Check out some examples.

  • Unless she apologises, I will not forgive her.
  • Unless it gets below zero degrees the water won’t freeze.
  • Unless they fired me, I wouldn’t leave the company.

As long as

Besides ‘unless’ and ‘if’ we can also use ‘as long as’ which is really, really useful if you want to set a limit or a condition on the expression.

So this is like saying if and only if the condition happens so if the condition doesn’t happen then the result is not possible or it’s not allowed.

‘As long as’ is usually used with the first conditional because it’s used when the result is expected.

  • As long as I get time off work, I’ll come for a visit.
  • As long as it’s not too crowded, we’ll stay for dinner.
  • As long as he finishes his homework, he’ll join you at the skate park.

Supposing (that)

Great work! We’re almost done, we’ve got one more option to replace ‘if’ with and that is using ‘supposing’ or ‘supposing that’. So using ‘supposing that’ helps the listener to imagine a situation so it’s really similar to using ‘if’ but just with a bit of extra command to really tell the listener that you want them to imagine, turn on their imagination.

Now it can be used in either the first or the second conditional but it’s much more comfortable in the second conditional for sure because you’re imagining right.

  • Supposing I can change my flight, I’ll come a few days earlier.
  • Supposing you got a huge Christmas bonus, would you go on a holiday?

The Third Conditional

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.

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.

Mixed Conditionals

Mixed conditionals are exactly what they sound like, a conditional sentence that mixes two different times in one sentence. That sounds a little tricky but I’m here to go over it with you and to help you practise with me later on in this lesson so don’t worry.

If you had learned how to use mixed conditionals already, you wouldn’t need to watch this lesson.

Check it out. That is a mixed conditional sentence and by the end of this video, you’ll be feeling much more confident about using mixed conditionals as you speak in English. So let’s go!

If you’ve watched some of my previous lessons or perhaps you’ve studied conditionals at school, well you’ll know that the zero conditional is used to talk about facts and things that are generally true.

The first conditional talks about a likely present situation.
The second conditional talks about hypothetical or highly unlikely present or future situations.
And the third conditional is a past situation which didn’t happen.

So these are all useful for talking about situations that relate to actions in isolation in their own time.

So the third conditional relates to the past but mixed conditionals help you to move through time so a past action with a present result. Gets exciting!

As I mentioned earlier, a key idea when we use mixed conditionals is time. But don’t confuse time with verb tense. So, of course, we use different verb tenses to express different times, that’s true but time and tense are not always the same thing.

So if you take a look at a couple of sentences.

  • had a dog when I was a child.
  • She was cleaning all day yesterday.

So are these two sentences using the same verb tense?

This is the past simple and this one is the past continuous. They’re not using the same tense but they are referring to the same time, right? They both take place in the past so they have the same time reference.

And like I said earlier, mixed conditionals are conditional sentences that use two different times in them. They help us to move between two times. So the ‘if’ clause and the main clause in a mixed conditional sentence have different times that work together.

So we take a look at an example.

  • If I had woken up earlier, I wouldn’t have missed the bus.

So both these clauses take place in the past, right? I’m talking about this morning, yesterday morning or some other morning in the past and the result, that I missed the bus, also happened in the past. So I already missed the bus, I can’t change that now.

So let’s change this sentence a little to make it a mixed conditional. To do that, we need one of the clauses to be in a different time.

So our ‘if’ clause is happening in the past, right? So let’s make our main clause about the present.

  • If I had woken up earlier, I would be at work already.

I wouldn’t have missed the bus so I would be at work already now, in the present.

So now we’ve got a mixed conditional sentence. One clause refers to a past action and the other refers to the present. See? It’s not as hard as you think once you break it down but it takes practice so let’s keep going!

There are a few different ways that we can do this. You can mix and match several tenses and times together to make them a mixed conditional sentence. But I want to focus on the two most common combinations right?

So a past action and a present result which is just the example that we just looked at and then a present condition and a past result. So remember in both of these sentences we’re talking about something that’s unreal.

In the first, we’re talking about changing a past action and the hypothetical present result that would happen but it can’t happen because we can’t change the past, right?

And in the second, we imagine that the present were different. Now it’s not but if it were then how would the past hypothetically have been different as a result?

It’s a little confusing I know. Let’s keep going.

past action > present result

So to create the first one we need the past perfect in the ‘if’ clause and the present conditional in the main clause. So if this thing had happened, then that thing would happen.

  • If I had saved more money, I would own this house.
  • If you hadn’t taken that job, we would be travelling together.
  • If they had paid more attention, they wouldn’t be failing in class.

And don’t forget that like all conditionals, you can change the order of the ‘if’ clause and the main clause.

This thing would happen if this thing had happened.

So you can swap the order of the clauses but all of the information is still there.

  • I would own this house, if I had saved more money.

We still have a hypothetical past action in the ‘if’ clause and the hypothetical present result in the main clause.

present condition > past result

The other common mixed conditional sentence is a present condition and a past result. So this is an unreal present condition to imagine what the result would have been in the past but we’ll never really know because this is imaginary, right?

So imagine if this thing happened then this would have happened.

Now all right let’s talk about this for a minute because we’re talking about a present condition right but we’re using the past simple tense in the ‘if’ clause but that’s not a real past right? This is how we use the second conditional to express a hypothetical present situation.

  • If I were more outgoing, I would have introduced myself.
  • If he wasn’t injured, he would have played the game.
  • If I wasn’t so busy, I would have offered to help.

future action > past result

Now you can also use this same general form to talk about a future action and a hypothetical past result.

Now this is pretty advanced but you’ll see how it can be a useful way of expressing yourself.

Just imagine that tomorrow you had a really important meeting at work. A meeting that you’ve planned and you’ve organised and set it up for the future. So you can’t go out dancing tonight, obviously because you want to be well rested and alert for this meeting. Your boss is gonna be there.

  • If I didn’t have an important meeting tomorrow, I would have gone out dancing.
  • If she wasn’t going on holiday next month, she would have asked for a day off.
  • If you weren’t going on a big hike tomorrow, would you have come on a bike ride today?

So how are you feeling about mixed conditionals now? I always think that it’s easier if you focus less on the complicated grammar tenses and more on the relationships with time.

And the three most commonly used mixed conditional sentences are simply:
– a past action with a present result
– a present condition with a past result
– a future action and the past result

So now that you know all of this, I think it’s time that we practise a little together.


Phew. Grammar lessons like this one can sometimes leave you feeling like your brain has completely turned to mush, but don’t let conditional sentences scare you. Of course, it will take time and it will take effort to understand how these English sentences work and how to use them accurately, but play around with them. Keep the time and the tenses in mind. If you’re reading a book, highlight a conditional sentence that you read, and then just think about it for a moment. Try to understand how the two clauses relate to each other.

And don’t forget that I’ve created the complete conditional workbook so you can start to think about and use these sentences on your own. The link is down below.

I hope that you enjoyed this lesson and that you found it useful. Like it, share it, subscribe. You know what to do.

I’ll see you in the next lesson.

Links mentioned in the video

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