The English Third Conditional in Action

The third conditional (or conditional 3) is probably the trickiest grammar structure in English.
If you’re taking an exam like IELTS, CAE or CPE, this is a really useful conditional to know. You’ll really impress your examiners if you use it correctly.
In this video you’ll:
– see third conditional examples in action in a story. (e.g. If it hadn’t been for you…)
– learn how to form the third conditional and when to use it.

Second and third conditionals are similar because we use them both to talk about imaginary and hypothetical situations.
But we use the second conditional to talk about the present and future and the third conditional to talk about the past – an imaginary past that didn’t happen.


Click here to see a video on the zero conditional
Click here to see a video on the first conditional
Click here to see a video on the second conditional

Help! Help!
Super Agent Awesome!
That is me. You mess with the lady, you mess with me.
Oh no!
Oh yeah!
Thank you Super Agent Awesome. If it hadn’t been for you, he’d have gotten away.
If I’d been faster, he wouldn’t have caught me
If I hadn’t stopped him, he would have escaped.

Hi I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
And this lessons about the most difficult grammar structure in the English language.
It’s the third conditional and it’s so tricky that native English speakers sometimes get it wrong.
If you’re taking an exam like IELTS or Cambridge Advanced or Proficiency, you’ll need to get this right.
But the good news is if you get it right, you’re going to impress your examiners.
When they hear you use this correctly they’re going to think, wow this student’s really good! I’ll give them top marks.
It’s definitely worth studying.
So in this lesson we’ll go through it step by step, so you know how to form it and when to use it.
Let’see how it works. Do you remember the story with Super Agent Awesome?
I was lucky because he stopped a guy who was stealing my handbag.

Super Agent Awesome!
That is me. You mess with the lady, you mess with me.
Oh no!
Oh yeah!
If he’d stolen my bag, he would have got all my money.

When to use the third conditional

Did he steal my bag? No! And did he get all my money? No, he didn’t. We use the third conditional to talk about things that didn’t happen. So what I’m doing here is imagining events in the past that didn’t happen. It’s an unreal past. We use the third conditional to imagine how things could have been different.
Like other conditionals, third conditionals have two parts – two clauses. One is the condition and one is the result. We can reverse the order of the clauses and the meaning stays the same. Just remember to use a comma if the sentence starts with ‘if’.
So third conditionals are about imaginary events – things that didn’t happen.
There’s another conditional that’s about imaginary events – the second conditional.
We’ve made another video about that. I’ll put the link here and you should check it out if you haven’t seen it.
The difference is the second conditional is about an imaginary present or future, but the third conditional is about an imaginary past.
We’re imagining a different past.
And we use different tenses.
Let’s look at them.

How to form the third conditional

In the condition clause we’ve got ’if’ and the past perfect – so not the past – the past perfect. It indicates a distance from reality. And then we have ‘would have’ and the past participle of the verb. I’m British so I said ‘got’ here, but in American English, they’d say ‘gotten’. They have a different past participle.
Notice the contractions here. We have ‘he’d’ in both clauses, but it stands for different words. What’s this one? It’s ‘he had’. And what’s this one? It’s ‘he would’. In the condition clause, it’s the past perfect so it’s ‘had’. And in the results clause it’s would – ‘would have’ and the past participle.
You’ll often hear native English speakers say ‘would have’ in the condition clause like this. But it’s not standard English.
It sounds uneducated to me. Be careful not to do this if you’re taking an exam.
Yes. it’s becoming more common in spoken English but strictly speaking, it’s wrong. I think sometimes the contractions confuse people.
What other contractions do we use?
There’s I’d, you’d, he’d, she’d, it’d, (yes, we really do say it’d) we’d and they’d.
And it’s the same contraction for ‘had’ and ‘would’. For example, ‘I’d’ can stand for ‘I had’ AND ‘I would’.
Let’s look how we form the negatives now.

If I’d been faster, he wouldn’t have caught me
If I hadn’t stopped him, he would have escaped.

Again, both these things didn’t happen. Super Agent Awesome did stop him and he didn’t escape, so we’re imagining a different past again. To form the negative of the past perfect, we use ‘hadn’t’. I hadn’t, you hadn’t, he hadn’t, she hadn’t. The verb form doesn’t change, so it’s pretty easy. The contraction of had and not is hadn’t.
And here we have a negative in the results clause. The negative contraction of would and not is wouldn’t. He wouldn’t have caught me.
Notice that I’m expressing regret in this sentence and wishing things had been different.
We often do that. We use the third conditional to express regret.
So when we feel sorry about things that happened.
But sometimes we use it when we’re thankful as well. And we heard a good example of that too.

Thank you Super Agent Awesome. If it hadn’t been for you, he’d have gotten away.

Here’s a useful phrase: If it hadn’t been for you…
We use this when someone affects a situation somehow and makes a positive difference.
And then we say how things could have turned out differently.
Actors say it when they win an award. They give a speech and thank everybody and say ‘If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have won this Oscar’.
You can say it to your teachers. ‘If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have passed my exam’.
OK, I have a different question for you now. Is ‘would’ the only modal verb you can use in the third conditional?
It isn’t. You can also say could, should and might.
They have slightly different meanings but they could all work. Just remember to use them with ‘have’ and the past participle.
OK, so now it’s time for you to try. Can you think of something you regret in your life, or something you feel thankful for or happy about and then make a third conditional about it.
Write it in the comments.
Do you want to try, Vicki?
Me?
Yes, give us an example.
If I hadn’t met Jay, I wouldn’t have started this YouTube channel.
OK. Let me try.
If Vicki hadn’t started this YouTube channel, we might not have met so many interesting people from all around the world.
We’re looking forward to reading your sentences.
OK so now we’ve made videos about zero conditionals, first conditionals, second conditionals and third conditionals.
Yes, I’m going to put a link here to a playlist with the other videos so you can check them out and compare them.
So are we done?
Not really because some conditionals are mixed. We mix up the tenses.
Shall we make another video about that?
Yes, so make sure you subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
If you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
And see you all next week everyone! Bye.
Bye-bye.

Click here to see a video on the zero conditional
Click here to see a video on the first conditional
Click here to see a video on the second conditional

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