The third conditional is used to speak about past events that could have happened, but didn’t. For example:
- If I had studied more, I would have passed the exam.
I didn’t study much so I didn’t pass the exam. Now I am filled with regret, and I use the third conditional to describe what I wish I had done differently.
If Clause and Main Clause
Let’s break down the above example. Conditionals in English have an if clause and a main clause. The half of the sentence that starts with the word “if” is the if clause (now you see where the name comes from!). This part of the sentence cannot stand alone. In English, the phrase, “If I had studied more,” is not a complete sentence by itself. However, the other half of the sentence, the main clause, is a complete sentence. You could say simply, “I would have passed the exam,” in English and it would be grammatically correct.
- if clause = the part of the sentence that begins with the word if.
- main clause = the other part of the sentence.
You can put these two clauses in any order. It’s more common to put the if clause first, but it’s perfectly acceptable to say:
- I would have passed the exam if I had studied more.
“I would have passed the exam,” is the main clause.
“if I had studied more,” is the if clause.
Forming Third Conditional in English
In third conditional, the if clause is in past perfect. Past perfect is formed by using had + past participle.
The main clause is formed by using the phrase would have + past participle. You might also see might or could instead of would. Remember that would can be contracted to ‘d, as in these examples:
- He would = He’d
- I would = I’d
We can not contract would when using names and other proper nouns.
- Skeeter would (NOT Skeeter’d)
- Charlotte would (NOT Charlotte’d)
The two clauses can be in any order. Here are some examples:
- If you hadn’t gone skiing, you wouldn’t have broken your leg.
- If we had known David Guetta was at the party, we would have attended.
- Mary wouldn’t have missed the plane if she had taken a taxi.
- I would have bought Microsoft stock in 1986 if I had been smart!
Or learn more about conditionals: