Third Conditional

We use the Third Conditional to talk about hypothetical / imaginary situations in the past. This is particularly useful when we want to talk regrets or about how something would have been different if we had made a different decision in the past. We use the Past Perfect Simple in the Third Conditional to show that the situation is imaginary in the past. If you would like to learn more about the Third Conditional, you’ve come to the right place. Feel free to look around, learn, and practice.

third conditional
Form
Conditional Clause Main Clause
If + Past Perfect, + would(n’t) have + past participle.

If it had rained yesterday, I would have stayed at home all day.

If it had rained yesterday, = the conditional clause

I would have stayed at home all day. = the main clause

If I’d studied the night before, I wouldn’t have failed the exam.

If I had gone to a different school, I wouldn’t have met my wife.

If you had gone to bed earlier, would you have woken up this morning?

*NOTE: In spoken English, would and had is often contracted to ‘d.

If it‘d rained yesterday, I‘d have stayed at home all day.

It is also possible to invert the sentence by putting the main clause before the conditional clause. We do this to add variety to our speech and also when we want to emphasise a certain part of the sentence.

So, we can also use the following structure:

Main Clause Conditional Clause
Would(n’t) have + past participle + If + Past Perfect.

*NOTE: When the main clause comes before the conditional clause, we do not use a comma before the conditional clause.

I would have stayed at home all day if it had rained yesterday.

I wouldn’t have failed the exam if I’d studied the night before.

I wouldn’t have met my wife if I had gone to a different school.

Would you have woken up this morning if you had gone to bed earlier?

It is also possible to use the Past Perfect Continuous in the if clause.

If you had been paying attention, you’d have understood the instructions to the assignment.

We can use the third conditional to talk about regret.

If I hadn’t dropped out of high school, I would have gone to college.

* NOTE: We can use if only instead of if to make the meaning stronger. Compare the following sentences.

If I hadn’t skipped school, I would have got better marks.

If only I hadn’t skipped school, I would have got better marks.

We can use the third conditional to criticize actions in the past.

If you had spent less time getting ready, you would have had more time to eat breakfast.

We can use the third conditional to give advice in the past. We don’t usually use the if clause when doing so.

You should’ve saved your money.

We can use the third conditional to talk about how you would have done things differently in the past.

If I’d been you, I’d have taken a taxi.

*NOTE: It is also possible to use the past tense if the main verb is be in the situation.

If I were you, I’d have taken a taxi.

We can use modal verbs in the main clause instead of would

-use could have when you are less sure about the result.

If I hadn’t lost the extra ticket, you could have gone with us.

-use could + have been able to to talk about ability.

She could have been able to sing better, if she’d had more vocal training.

-use might / may / could + have to show probability or uncertainty.

I might’ve gone to the party if I’d been invited.

-use should + have when you want to talk about something that is advisable or probable.

If the had already left, you should’ve told me.