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
She missed the bus.
She was late for work
She was fired.
She got drunk.
She stole a car.
She crashed into a tree.
She was taken to hospital.
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).
Now you’ve revised how to form the 3rd conditional, try this mini-test.
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?!