We use conditional structures to speculate about things that could happen in the future and things that might have happened in the past. Most conditional sentences in English use the word“If”and describe a condition and the result if that condition is true. Conditionals are formed by using different verb tenses in the condition part of the sentence and the result part of the sentence, depending on the type of conditional being used.
Types of conditionals
There are different types of conditionals, mainly: zero conditionals, 1st conditionals, 2nd conditionals and 3rd conditionals; which we use depending on how probable the condition and its result are. They can go from 100% certain: if the condition is true the result always happens, to completely impossible: the result was maybe possible in the past but can’t happen now at all.
See the table below for a rough guide on which conditional to use depending on how probable it is:
|Type||Probability condition will happen|
|Zero conditional||100% – will always happen.|
|1st conditional||50%~90% – will probably happen.|
|2nd conditional||1%~40% – can happen, but probably won’t.|
|3rd conditional||0%- impossible, can’t happen because in the past.|
In this article we will focus on 2nd and 3rd conditionals. For information on the zero and first conditional structures, you can seethis post. Second conditionals mainly use present and unreal past tenses and describe present or future situations that are not very likely to happen or situations that now are actually impossible but perhapswerepossible at some point in the past.
The 2nd conditional
We use the 2nd conditional, as mentioned, for unlikely situations that can but probably won’t happen, as well as hypothetical or imaginary situations both in the present and future. It is formed by using“If”and the simple past tense in the condition part of the sentence, followed by“would”and the bare infinitive (the basic form of a verb without“to,”e.g.towalk). Remember that we can rearrange the two parts of the sentence, with either the condition first and the result after, or the result first and the condition after:
[If + past tense], +[would + bare infinitive]
[would + bare infinitive](no paragraph) +[if + past tense]
Just make sure you use the correct pronouns so that the subject of the sentence is still clear. For example:
If Iwasrich, Iwould travelthe world.
Iwould travelthe world if Iwasrich.
Here, the meaning is that the person speaking isn’t rich now, and believes that becoming richis possiblebut probablynotgoing to happen, it is an imagined / hypothetical situation.
Using “I were” instead of “I was” in the 2nd conditional
Note: When“I”is the subject we often use“I were”in conditional sentences as opposed to“I was,”especially when writing, as it sounds more formal. For example:
IfI wasyou, I would go to the doctor’s
IfI wereyou, I would go to the doctor’s.
Here, the meaning is that the person speaking isn’t rich now, and believes that becoming richis possiblebut probablynotgoing to happen, it is an imagined / hypothetical situation.
Using other modals instead of “would” in the 2nd conditional
Note:It is also possible to use other modals such as“could,” “might,” and “should”in place of “would” in the 2nd conditional. Changing the modal changes the degree of certainty or the tone of the sentence, with “might” being not very sure, “could” being about 50/50 and “should” being used for making suggestions. For example:
Using the continuous form in 2nd conditionals
Note: It is also possible to use the continuous form to talk about unfinished or continuous actions /states that would result from the improbable/hypothetical conditions described by 2nd conditional sentences. The structure is the same in the condition part with“If”followed by the simple past, while the result part takes“would”followed by“be”and the verb in the continuous form:
[If + past tense], +[would + be + verb-ing]
[would + be + verb-ing](no paragraph) +[If + past tense]
Iwould be livingin London if itwasn’tso expensive.
Here, the action of living in London would have started in the past and would still be continuing now if the condition was true, which, unfortunately, it isn’t, as living in the capital usually costs a lot of money.
The 3rd conditional
Finally, we use the 3rd conditional to talk about things that were possible in the past, but that didn’t happen or can no longer happen now, which means they are actually impossible/ unreal events. It is formed by using the past perfect tense in the condition part of the sentence, followed by“would”and then the present perfect tense in the result part. As before, these parts can be swapped around:
[If + past perfect tense], +[would + present perfect tense]
[would + present perfect tense](no paragraph) +[If + past perfect tense]
If ithad startedto rain, the picnicwould have been cancelled.
Here, in reality, it did not rain and the picnic was not cancelled, but there was a possibility of this potentially happening in the past.
Using the 3rd conditional to express regrets
Note: Since the 3rd conditional deals with situations that could have but didn’t happen in the past, it is often used to talk about regrets or things we wish had happened differently. For Example:
If Ihad studiedharder, Iwould have passedmy exam.
Here, the speaker could have studied harder and the result could have been passing his exam, but in reality, they didn’t study so much and they didn’t pass. It is too late for this condition to become true.
Using “- ‘d” for “would” and “had” in the 3rd conditional
Note: In English, we often abbreviate words especially when speaking casually. Both the words“would”and“had”can be abbreviated to“- ‘d”( apostrophe + “d” ). This can be confusing when it occurs in the 3rd conditional which uses both words in the same sentence. To help you decide which word “- ‘d” is referring to, remember that:
- “would”never appears with“if”in the condition part of the sentence. If you see“- ‘d”after“if”it must be the abbreviation of“had”.
- “Had”can never be before“have”.So if you see“- ‘d”before“have”then it must be the abbreviation of“would”.
(I had) (I would)
IfI’dknown it was your birthday,I’dhave bought you a present.
Using other modals instead of “would” in the 3rd conditional
Note: It is possible to use other modals such as“could,” “might,” and “should”in place of “would” in the 3rd conditional as well. Changing the modal changes the degree of certainty, with “might” being not very sure, “could” being about 50/50 and “should” being very sure. For example:
Using the continuous form in the 3rd conditional
Note: The continuous form can also be used in the 3rd conditional to talk about unfinished or continuous actions /states that would have resulted in the past, from possible past conditions that didn’t actually happen. The structure is the same in the condition part with“If”followed by the past perfect, while the result part takes“would”followed by the present perfect continuous form:
[If + past perfect tense], +[would + have been verb-ing]
[would + have been verb-ing](no paragraph) +[If + past perfect tense]
Summary of 2nd and 3rd conditional structures
In summary, 2nd conditionals can happen but there are low chances they will, whereas 3rd conditionals can’t happen, as they are in the past and now impossible. Compare the difference in meaning in the examples below:
If he invited me, I would go to his party (unlikely but still possible).
If he had invited me, I would have gone to his party (in the past – impossible).
In the 2nd conditional, the sentence describes that going to the party can happen but the speaker doesn’t believe there is a high chance they will be invited. In the 3rd conditional sentence, the reality is that the speaker was not invited and did not go to the party, although it was possible in the past.
2nd and 3rd conditional structures in songs
Conditionals are used all around us, especially in music, here are some songs that use some of the conditional structures we have seen above, but there are many many more, can you think of any English songs you like that also use 2nd and 3rd conditionals?
Cher – If I could turn back time
Jennifer Lopez – If You Had My Love
Vikings Theme song- If I Had A Heart
We also have some help with how to use conditional structures in thisblog posttoo.
For example: "If you heat ice, it melts." The first conditional. For example: "If it rains, you will stay home." The second conditional: "If I were you, I would look for another job. " The third conditional: "If you had studied harder, you would have become an engineer."Is it possible to mix the second and third conditionals in one sentence? ›
It's possible to combine the second and third conditional in one sentence when we want to make a hypothesis about the past that has a consequence in the present. In this case, the structure is: Here are some examples: If you'd studied harder, you'd be at a higher level now.How do you write second and third conditional sentences? ›
|1. First conditional:||If I have enough money, I will go to Japan.|
|2. Second conditional:||If I had enough money, I would go to Japan.|
|3. Third conditional:||If I had had enough money, I would have gone to Japan.|
To make a sentence in the second conditional, we use, If + past simple, would/wouldn't + verb. If I lived in a big city, I would go out more often. If I lived in a big city, I wouldn't need a car.What is an example of conditional type 2 structure? ›
Examples. If I were taller, I would buy this dress. If I were 20, I would travel the world. If I were you, I would give up smoking.What is the structure of 3rd conditional? ›
To make a sentence in the third conditional, we use, If + past perfect, would/wouldn't have + past participle. If you had told me about the meeting, I would have come. If you had told me about the meeting, I wouldn't have missed it.What is an example of a mixed conditional 2 and 3? ›
Mixed second/third conditional
If I were a man, they would have given me the job. If I didn't have so much work, I would have gone to the party last night. I would have understood them if I spoke German.
You can combine conditional expressions by using logical operators. Note: The OR operator is inclusive, if part of the statement is TRUE, the result is TRUE.What is the importance of using second and third conditional from a particular conversation? ›
The second and third conditionals can be used to express regret about our present or past situations respectively.What is the rule for second conditional sentences? ›
The second conditional is used to imagine present or future situations that are impossible or unlikely in reality. If we had a garden, we could have a cat. If I won a lot of money, I'd buy a big house in the country. I wouldn't worry if I were you.
- If I'd known you were in hospital, I'd have visited you.
- If I had known you were in hospital, I would have visited you.
- I'd have bought you a present if I'd known it was your birthday.
- I would have bought you a present if I had known it was your birthday.
- If you'd given me your e-mail, I'd have written to you.
If we're using the second conditional to ask a question, we form it like this: Would + infinitive verb + if + past simple?What is an example of conditional structure? ›
This form is used to talk about something that is a probable future result of a condition. Form: If + simple present, will + base verb Example 1: If I see you later, I will say hello. Example 2: If I don't see you later, I won't be able to say hello.What is the structure used for conditional statements? ›
The IF statement lets you execute a sequence of statements conditionally. That is, whether the sequence is executed or not depends on the value of a condition. There are three forms of IF statements: IF-THEN , IF-THEN-ELSE , and IF-THEN-ELSIF .What is an example of a conditional sentence type 1 2 3? ›
If I studied, I wouldn't fail the exam. If I didn't study, I'd fail the exam. If I had studied, I would have passed the exam. If I'd studied, I'd have passed the exam.How do you write two conditional statements? ›
It is a combination of two conditional statements, “if two line segments are congruent then they are of equal length” and “if two line segments are of equal length then they are congruent”. A biconditional is true if and only if both the conditionals are true.What is 1st and 2nd conditional structure? ›
The first conditional is a structure used for talking about possibilities in the present or in the future. The second condtional expresses unreal situations in the present or future. First condtional: If the weather is nice, we'll go swimming. Second condtional: If I had a million pounds, I would buy a big yacht.What is the third conditional list? ›
|would have + past participle||Past Perfect|
|I would have told Mary||if||I had seen her.|
|I would have invited Tara||if||she had been free yesterday.|
|Their teacher would have been sad||if||they had not passed their exam.|
- General truth – If I eat breakfast, I feel good all day.
- Future event – If I have a test tomorrow, I will study tonight.
- Hypothetical situation – If I had a million dollars, I would buy a boat!
- Hypothetical outcome – If I had prepared for the interview, I would have gotten the job.
A conditional clause is a sentence that describes something that happens (Type 0), will happen (Type 1), maybe would happen (Type 2) or maybe would have happened (Type 3) if certain terms (conditionals, limitations) had been met.
We use the third conditional (if + past perfect, would + have + past participle) to talk about something in the past that did not happen. How is the third conditional different from the other conditionals? This is the way we imagine how things could have been different in the past.What is the structure of mixed conditionals? ›
The structure is: if + past simple, would (could, might) have + past participle.What is the mixed conditionals use of English? ›
We can use mixed conditionals when we imagine a past change with a result in the present or a present change with a result in the past.What is the most common mixed conditional? ›
The most common mixed conditional is when a past action affects a present result (hypothetical). In the video, I explained how I nearly bought Bitcoin in 2011. I didn't buy Bitcoin but…Why are conditionals so difficult? ›
In sum, conditionals are the hardest to grasp because they encompass almost all English verb tenses and require learners to use any of them spontaneously at any given time and in any given context.What are the mistakes with conditionals? ›
The most common mistake is to put will in the conditional clause. The conditional clause must remain in the simple present tense. Incorrect: Sam won't go to the dance unless you will ask him.How does the third conditional is significant in helping people see the two sides of the situation? ›
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.What is a conditional structure where one action depends on another is also called? ›
Conditionals are also known as if clauses, we use them to say that one thing depends on something else. They can be used to talk about something that always happens, might happen or might have happened as a result of another state, action or event.
Third conditional: Past unreal: If he had asked, I would have helped him. If you had studied harder, you would have succeeded. Second conditional is something in the present or future that I don't think or expect is real: If I were you, I would do it. If I won the lottery, I would buy an island.Why is 2nd conditional sentences important? ›
We use the second conditional to imagine, dream, or wish. The if-clause in a second conditional sentence expresses an unreal present condition or an unreal or impossible future condition. The form of the past subjunctive is almost the same as simple past tense.
How many conditionals are there? There are four main types of conditional sentences, unimaginatively named the Zero Conditional, First Conditional, Second Conditional, and Third Conditional.Why do we use past simple in second conditional? ›
We use the Past Simple tense to talk about the future condition. We use would + base verb to talk about the future result. The important thing about the second conditional is that there is an unreal possibility that the condition will happen.What is an example about the third conditional in a question? ›
If he had cut the grass earlier, it wouldn't have been so tall later. If she had cleaned her house, it would have sold quicker. If they hadn't gone out to eat so often, they would have saved more money. If you hadn't shown up late, you would have got the job.What is an example of a second conditional question? ›
Second conditional questions are used to ask about hypothetical or imaginary situations that are unlikely to happen. For example, the question “If you won the lottery, what would you do?” is talking about a very unlikely situation (winning the lottery) and is asking you to imagine what you would do in that situation.What is an example of a conditional statement in English? ›
Look at the following examples: If you had told me you needed a ride, I would have left earlier. If I had cleaned the house, I could have gone to the movies. These sentences express a condition that was likely enough but did not actually happen in the past.What is a simple example of conditional statement? ›
Example. Conditional Statement: “If today is Wednesday, then yesterday was Tuesday.” Hypothesis: “If today is Wednesday” so our conclusion must follow “Then yesterday was Tuesday.” So the converse is found by rearranging the hypothesis and conclusion, as Math Planet accurately states.Are there 3 types of conditional sentence? ›
|Conditional sentence type||Usage|
|Type 1||A possible condition and its probable result|
|Type 2||A hypothetical condition and its probable result|
|Type 3||An unreal past condition and its probable result in the past|
|Mixed type||An unreal past condition and its probable result in the present|
Conditional Sentences start with 'If' and each of them refers to the unreal past. This kind of sentences is also known as 'If 'sentence and here, past tense is used, but they do not refer to the past time. There are four main types of conditional sentences. Example: If it rains, you cannot attend the party.What is the 10 structure of a conditional sentence of type 2? ›
The condition clause uses a subjunctive verb (were) or the past form of an action verb, and the result clause uses the verb phrase 'would + V1'. Possible structures: (If + subject + were + subject complement) + (Subject + would + V1) (If + subject + V2) + (Subject + would + V1)What are different conditional structures? ›
There are the following types of conditional statements in C. If statement. If-Else statement. Nested If-else statement. If-Else If ladder.
If we're using the second conditional to ask a question, we form it like this: Would + infinitive verb + if + past simple?What are the examples of conditional structure? ›
Summary of Conditionals
If you heat ice, it melts. If I win the lottery, I will buy a car. If I won the lottery, I would buy a car. If I had won the lottery, I would have bought a car.
Examples. If I had worked harder I would have passed the exam. (But I didn't work hard, and I didn't pass the exam.) If I had known you were coming I would have baked a cake.What are the two parts of the second conditional? ›
The second conditional uses the past tense in the if clause and a modal and base verb in the result clause. This form is used to talk about a hypothetical situation that cannot happen or is unlikely to happen.What is second conditional questions? ›
Second conditional questions are used to ask about hypothetical or imaginary situations that are unlikely to happen. For example, the question “If you won the lottery, what would you do?” is talking about a very unlikely situation (winning the lottery) and is asking you to imagine what you would do in that situation.What are the five main conditional structures in English? ›
In this article, we will look at the conditionals in English. We will see five conditionals: zero, first, second, third and mixed. A conditional sentence is formed by a main clause (the consequence), a conjunction (if), and a conditional clause (the condition).Are there four main conditional structures in English? ›
- if (or when) + present tense | present tense.
- if (or when) + past tense | past tense.
- if + present tense | will (may/might/can/could/should) + infinitive.
- if + past subjunctive | would/might/could + infinitive (simple or continuous)
The structure is usually: if + past simple >> + would + infinitive. When if is followed by the verb be, it is grammatically correct to say if I were, if he were, if she were and if it were. However, it is also common to hear these structures with was, especially in the he/she form. If I were you, I wouldn't mention it.What is conditional statement structure? ›
A conditional statement is a statement that can be written in the form “If P then Q,” where P and Q are sentences. For this conditional statement, P is called the hypothesis and Q is called the conclusion. Intuitively, “If P then Q” means that Q must be true whenever P is true.