Unreal Conditionals Handout

The Second Conditional

The Second Conditional refers to an unreal (or very unlikely) situation in the PRESENT time. The most confusing thing about the second conditional is that we use the PAST TENSE in the "if" clause, even though we're referring to the PRESENT! Consider the following examples:

Okay, now that you understand that the PAST TENSE in the "if" clause refers to the PRESENT time, there is one other rule you should be aware of. (You will hear native speakers break this rule, but you should use it especially in formal speech and formal writing.) If the main verb in the "if" clause is "be," we use "were" with ALL subjects, including first and third person singular. (This is the subjunctive mood.) Consider the following examples:

The Third Conditional

The Third Conditional refers to an unreal situation in the PAST. In other words, it refers to something that did NOT happen in the past, though maybe it was once an option. The most confusing thing about the third conditional is that we use the PAST PERFECT in the "if" clause, even though we're referring to the PAST. Consider the following examples:

(Now that you know the rule for the third conditional, you should be aware that native speakers will sometimes break this rule. In informal conversation people might say, "If you would have gone to Mexico, you would have a tan.")

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