We use the Third Conditional to talk about the past. However this past is special because it didn’t happen. We can use this aspect of grammar to speculate or imagine what could have happened in a previous situation. This is why it can be so much fun to use!
The structure can seem difficult but is actually very easy. It’s formed as:
If* + past perfect** + would have + past participle***
Remember: *Because we are talking about am imagined past we must use if
**Past perfect = had + past participle
***In spoken English the subject + would and subject + had are usually contracted e.g. I’d/You’d/She’d
Some examples are:
– If I hadn’t eaten so much, I wouldn’t have gotten fat.
– If she hadn’t robbed the bank, she wouldn’t have gone to prison.
– If they hadn’t caught a taxi, they wouldn’t have missed the plane.
Fun ways to use this structure could be:
– What would I have done if…?
We can use this opening question to speculate what could have happened if something in the past had been different e.g. What would you have done if you hadn’t gone to University? or What would you have done if you hadn’t met your husband/wife?
– If I had known…
We can talk about things we would have done differently if we had known some information e.g. If I had known it was going to rain all Semana Santa I would have booked a holiday!
– Expressing Regret/Criticism of Past Actions
e.g If I hadn’t stayed out all night, I would feel better today! or
If I had known how fun the party was, I would have gone!
A great game to play using this conditional, in a group, is to write some ridiculous sentence beginners for example “If I had been born with hands for feet and feet for hands…” or “If money had grown on trees…” on pieces of paper. Each participant chooses a sentence (without letting anyone see what they have selected) and they write the second part of the sentence. Each person then reads out the second part of their sentence and the group tries to guess the first part.