Grammar: Mixing conditionals – BBC English Masterclass

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Improve your English grammar with the BBC. You know how to use the first, second and third conditionals – but do you know how to mix them? Dan has a grammar lesson to show you how. For more, visit our website:

Hi guys. Dan from BBC Learning English here. In this session we’ll be looking at mixed conditionals. Now, I know that clever students like yourselves will know that English has three types of conditional sentences. First conditional is to talk about real, present or future situations, second conditional is to talk about hypothetical present or future situations and third conditional is to talk about hypothetical past situations. All three types of conditional are fantastic and all three types of conditional talk about events within their own time frame – present, future and past. But what about if you want to talk about an event that happened in the past – which affects the future? Can events in the present or the future affect the past?

Come over here and let’s take a look. Here is a third conditional sentence:

If I had taken programming at school, I would have got a job at Google years ago.

Here we have a past hypothetical with a past consequence. Notice the formula: ‘If’ plus the past perfect here, ‘would’ plus have plus the past participle here. Now watch what happens as we change the consequence.

If I had taken programming at school, I would be working for Google.

Now we have a past hypothetical with a present consequence. This part here is from a second conditional. Its formula is ‘would’ plus the bare infinitive. This kind of makes sense in that decisions or actions in the past affect the present. But can we do the future? Well, let’s have a look.

If I had taken programming at school, I would be attending the Google conference next week.

Yes we can. As you can see, the only difference between the present and the future is the time expression. The formula is exactly the same: ‘would’ plus the infinitive. Second conditional. Did you get it? Now let’s see what happens if we try to make the second – which is the present – affect the past, which is a third.

If I were smarter, I would have invented something clever when I was younger.

It can. Now we have a present theory with a past result. This can be a little difficult to understand, until we realise that ‘if I were smarter’ is the same as saying ‘I am not smart’ – which is present simple. And remember that we use present simple for long term truth. When I say ‘I am not smart’, I mean: I am not smart now, in the future and in the past. It’s the same as saying ‘I am English’ – past, present and future. So, this kind of conditional works very well with personal descriptions. And here are a couple of other examples.

If he were taller, he would have become a basketball player.

If they were in love, they would have got married 10 years ago.

If I were less interesting, I wouldn’t have been asked to speak in public so many times.

Did you get it? Good. Let’s try one more. Present to past. But a little bit more specific this time.

If I weren’t flying on holiday next week, I would have accepted that new project at work.

Here we have a present second, although it’s actually future, with a past third result. This means that the person couldn’t accept the project at work because they knew that they would be flying in the future. OK guys, did you get it? Mixing conditionals isn’t difficult to do, as long as you both have confidence and an understanding of the verb forms. It’s much easier to do a third to second than it is to do a second to third, but both are possible. And finally, don’t forget the importance of time words. OK? Alright.

Now, for more information have a look at I’ve been Dan, you’ve been great. Have fun guys, see you next time.

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