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Grammar: The 3rd Conditional

Grammar: 3rd conditional

The 3rd Conditional

The 3rd conditional is the only one that refers to the past. 

We use this to talk about past situations that can no longer be changed; hypothetical situations.  We imagine how events in the past could have been different.

So if we want to talk about the past and imagine a different outcome, we use the 3rd conditional.  The first thing we need to consider is what actually happened.  Then we think about what we think would have happened if things had been different.  We’re going to look at a picture story to illustrate this better.

[To revise how to form the 3rd conditional (its grammar), and when we use it (its function), go to the Grammar Reference section.]

Jan’s Disastrous Day

3rd conditional picture story 1

Jan overslept.

3rd conditional picture story 2

She missed the bus.

3rd conditional picture story 3

She was late for work

3rd conditional picture story 4

She was fired.

3rd conditional picture story 5

She got drunk.

3rd conditional picture story 6

She stole a car.

3rd conditional picture story 7

She crashed into a tree.

d conditional picture story 8

She was taken to hospital.

3rd conditional picture story 9

She fell in love with a doctor!

So that’s what happened!  But now let’s imagine how things could have turned out differently.

We’ll start by joining the first two pictures, then join pictures 2 and 3, and so on, making a conditional chain-story:

If Jan hadn’t overslept, she wouldn’t have missed the bus.  If she hadn’t missed the bus, she wouldn’t have been late for work.  If she hadn’t been late for work, she wouldn’t have been* fired.

Now join the rest of the pictures to complete the story:

If she hadn’t been fired,

(Answers at the bottom of the page.)

*Watch out for passive constructions such as this: ‘to be fired’ (by the boss), ‘to be taken to hospital’ (by the ambulance).


Practice Exercise

Now you’ve revised how to form the 3rd conditional, try this mini-test.

Exam timing: maximum 30 seconds per question

Time's up – try again

Grammar Mini-test: 3rd Conditional

Test your knowledge of the 3rd conditional.

1 / 12

Where would you have gone on holiday if ...

2 / 12

If there hadn't been a traffic jam, we ....

3 / 12

I don't know what I'd have done if ......

4 / 12

Where would you have gone if ...

5 / 12

If she hadn't helped me, .....

6 / 12

If you'd had the chance, ....

7 / 12

What would you have done if

8 / 12

If I hadn't given up studying German, .....

9 / 12

She'd never have married him if

10 / 12

If I'd been there, perhaps I ......

11 / 12

If you'd stayed on at university, what .......?

12 / 12

I wouldn't have gone to the party if ........ he'd be there.

Your score is


Why not take the opportunity to revise the Zero, 1st & 2nd conditionals too?  And you can find all the grammar and vocabulary exercises in our Guide to the Posts.

And try an Aptis Grammar Test.


Answers to the conditional story ‘Jan’s Disastrous Day’

If she hadn’t been fired, she wouldn’t have got drunk.  If she hadn’t got drunk, she wouldn’t have stolen a car.  If she hadn’t stolen a car, she wouldn’t have crashed into a tree.  If she hadn’t crashed into a tree, she wouldn’t have been taken to hospital.  If she hadn’t been taken to hospital, she wouldn’t have fallen in love with a doctor.  And if she hadn’t fallen in love with a doctor … well, what do you think would have happened?!

2 thoughts on “Grammar: The 3rd Conditional”

    1. Thanks a lot for taking the time to leave a comment Dave. We really think the picture story helps the students to internalize the grammar. Remember to come back soon and see what we’ve done. We upload new content for the Aptis exam every week. Check out our YouTube channel too!

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