When we learn about conditional sentences in English, we usually learn the four basic types:
Type 0 — “If it rains, the ground gets wet.”
Type 1 — “If he hugs me, I’ll hug him back.”
Type 2 — “If I was taller, I’d be much better at this sport.”
Type 3 — “If I’d been more careful, I wouldn’t have got into trouble with Shady Nick.”
But there’s more!
There are three ways that we can play with conditionals that expert English speakers use effortlessly.
So this is your chance to sound super smart.
We’re going to look at these three tricks over the next three lessons.
- How to use mixed conditionals properly (today’s post)
- How to invert conditional sentences and sound like an academic: click here
- One more neat trick with English conditionals that will make you sound like a pro: click here
Today, we’re going to deal with mixed conditionals.
This topic was actually requested by one of our readers. So if you’re reading, Irina, great idea and thanks for suggesting it.
But before we mix the conditionals, let’s revise how they work.
How Conditional Sentences Work
Let’s start with a simple example:
“If it rains tomorrow, I’ll stay in and watch giraffe documentaries.”
We have the “if” part, which sets up the situation, and the other part, which describes the result.
This is an example of the first conditional. We use it to talk about likely situations in the future.
Because we don’t use the first conditional in mixed conditionals, today’s post is going to be focused on the second and third conditionals. These are the conditionals used for hypothetical (unreal) situations.
Let’s look at how they work.
How “Unreal” Conditionals Work
We can use the second conditional for general, unreal situations:
“If I had more money, I’d totally buy that giraffe.”
(But in reality, I don’t have more money, so the giraffe stays in the shop. Or the zoo. Or the sanctuary. Wherever you buy giraffes from.)
We can also use the second conditional when we want to talk about an unlikely future:
“If I won the lottery, I’d go to Pisa. Because it’s awesome!”
We use the third conditional to imagine hypothetical situations in the past:
“If I had listened to my mother when I was a kid, I would’ve become a cosmonaut.”
(If you want more examples of conditional sentences (with a killer rabbit), check out my post on conditional sentences in English.)
OK. So those are the unreal conditionals in English.
No problem, right? We create an unreal situation and describe what effects it produces.
As you can see, with the second conditional, we create an unreal general situation and describe an unreal general (or future) effect.
And with the third conditional, we create an unreal past situation and describe an unreal past effect.
But what if you want to create an unreal past situation and describe an unreal general (or future) effect?
Or what if you want to create an unreal general situation and describe an unreal past effect?
Easy! Just mix them!
How Mixed Conditionals Work
“If we had the key, we would’ve gone in.”
“If we’d picked up the key, we’d go in.”
Let’s look at some more examples:
“If I had listened to my mother when I was a kid, I would be on the moon now.”
— an unreal past situation with a general effect
And another example:
“If it wasn’t winter, I would’ve walked home.”
— an unreal general situation with a past effect
OK. So now you can master the unreal!
These mixed conditionals are often about regret — about something that you wanted to happen that would make life better now.
But they can also be used positively!
So, let’s finish on a positive note.
Think about your life now. Choose something positive about it. How did it happen? What was the past event that caused it?
Tell me, in one mixed conditional sentence, how your life would be different now without this past event.
Leave your answer in the comments, but I’ll get things started with my answer:
“If I hadn’t decided to become a teacher way back in 2004, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this sentence.”
Did you find this useful? Do you know any people (or giraffes) that might also benefit from this? Then BE AWESOME AND SHARE! Please spread the knowledge!
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