Third Conditional: Definition, Useful Rules with Examples

The following article provides the definition with rules of third conditional. You will also learn how to form the sentence and how to use it. Most conditional sentences in English use the word “If” and describe a condition and the result if that condition is true. The first conditional and second conditionals talk about the future. Now, let’s take a look about third conditional.

What is The Third Conditional?

The third conditional is used to express a past event that never happened. We use the third conditional to talk about unrealistic situations in the past and the hypothetical results. In such a case, neither the situation nor the result exists in the present. The situation never occurred, so the result is unattainable. It is often used to describe a lost opportunity. The imperative thing pertaining to the third conditional is that neither the condition nor the result is possible at the moment.

How to Use Third Conditional

With that said, let’s dive into the rules guiding the formation of the third conditional. It’s composed of two clauses, namely: If-clause and Main clause.

The If-clause (if + past perfect) and Main clause (would have + past participle)

So, let’s look at the examples of the third conditional in a sentence.

If clause Main Clause.

  • If I had prepared well for the test, I would have excelled.
  • If I had enough money, I would have bought a new bag.
  • If I had listened to her, I wouldn’t have landed in trouble.

In all the three examples, both the situation and results are in the past and, therefore, did not materialize. In the first example, the learner didn’t prepare well for the test, meaning he failed the test. In the second example, there was a shortage of money, and therefore it was impossible to buy the bag. In the third example, he failed to listen to her, and that’s why he fell into trouble.

Additional examples and explanations of the third conditional.

  • If she had adhered to traffic laws, she would not have her driving license revoked.

She flouted the traffic laws, and that is probably the reason behind the cancellation of her license.

  • If I had left home earlier, I would not have missed the morning flight.

This means that I left home late, and that’s why I didn’t catch the morning flight.

Similar to all conditional sentences, the arrangement of the clauses can be altered. However, this may involve reorganization of pronouns and proper punctuation. In this case, the Main clause precedes the If clause.

Main clause (would have + past participle), If clause (if + past perfect)

Example in a sentence

Main clause If clause:

  • I would have passed the test, if I had prepared well.
  • I would have visited her, if I had time.
  • I would have honored the invitation, if I had an invite card.

In all three examples, the situation is in the past, and the results were unachievable. In the first sentence, I failed the test because I didn’t prepare well. In the second sentence, I didn’t visit her because I had no time. In the third sentence, I didn’t honor the invitation because I had no invitation card. At these events are in the past, meaning none of them were achieved.

From the above, it’s apparent that the third conditional is used to express regret over a past event or opportunity that went utilized. These are just wishes because time has elapsed for their realization. People are often disappointed when they recount that they didn’t capitalize on an opportunity they had in their lives when it’s too late.

Third Conditional | Infographic

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Jake Ronald Marbida
Jake Ronald Marbida
3 years ago

I thought we do not separate with a comma if clause written at the end of the sentence.

Goran Ahmed
Goran Ahmed
3 years ago

so did I

2 months ago

If I had HAD enough money, I would have bought the new bag.

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