Easy English Grammar

Mixed Conditionals in English — Never Get Confused Again

Mixed Conditionals in English -- Never Get Confused Again

It’s a great feeling.

After many difficulties, you’ve mastered those English conditionals — you know, the “if” sentences.

You can use them effortlessly in context. Without thinking. Because you rock at English!

Then you’re having a chat with someone, and he says this:

“Should Shelley arrive on Thursday, I’ll meet her at the airport.”

Wha….? What did he just say?

Wasn’t that a question? Was he asking if Shelly should arrive on Thursday or not?

But you don’t know who Shelly is, so how would you know when she should arrive? Also, this didn’t sound like a question.

OK. So, welcome to the weird world of advanced conditional sentences!

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.”

Shady Nick
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.

You’ll learn:

  1. How to use mixed conditionals properly (today’s post)
  2. How to invert conditional sentences and sound like an academic: click here
  3. 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.

First conditional sentence

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.)

English conditionals - real and unreal

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!

English conditionals - unlikely future

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.

English conditionals - unreal past

(If you want more examples of conditionals 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.

Second and third conditional sentences

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


Mixed conditional sentences

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

Mixed conditionals example sentence 1

And another example:

If it wasn’t winter, I would’ve walked home.

— an unreal general situation with a past effect

Mixed conditionals example sentence 2

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!

Want more? Get a free month of Gymglish, a daily English workout with a fun, engaging narrative and personalised corrections. Get it here.

63 thoughts on “Mixed Conditionals in English — Never Get Confused Again

        1. This is a great question, Faelan. Thanks!

          Generally speaking we can’t mix the first and third conditionals as they’re both on other sides of that “reality/hypothetical” line.

          So we can talk about reality either generally: “If she knows the answer, she tells him.” (Speaking about an active student in class, for example).

          We can also talk about reality when thinking about the future: “If she knows the answer, she’ll tell him.”

          On the other side of the line, we can talk hypothetically generally or about the future: “If she knew the answer, she’d tell him.”

          Or hypothetically about the past either with everything in the past, or just the result: “If she’d known the answer, she would’ve told him.” or “If she knew the answer, she would’ve told him.”

          HOWEVER — in the real world, because human beings are never perfect, we’ll hear first and third getting mixed up a lot: “If she knows the answer, she would’ve told him.”

          It’s not technically correct, but it’s quite common.

          Hope that helps!

    1. If I hadn’t read your article about mixed conditionals yesterday,I wouldn’t know how to use them now.
      Thank”s a lot.

  1. Luckily I know all these things because I’ve been teaching my students to use them correctly. Allthesame, thank you for drawing our attention to them – theymake our communication richer, even refined to some exent!

  2. If I won the lottery, I’d become a lottery winner, obviously. But if I were a modern-day Gambling Hansel, I might beg three favours and terrify all casino owners. And who knows, even be the richest man of all time… if I was still alive.
    And it goes without saying, if I won first prize in the lottery of life, I’d be born an English speaking Rockstar 😉

    If Howard Wolowitz listened to his single mother, he would’ve never become an ex-astronaut! And been dubbed ‘Froot Loops’.

    If we had the master key, we could go in pretty much whatever tickled our fancy.

    If it wasn’t wintering and very heavy snowballs falling, I should’ve stopped drinking and walked home.

    If not for you, Gabriel, I would be stuck in a rut.

  3. Were I not teaching a lesson on mixed conditionals next week, I wouldn’t have been looking up some material for two days. Had it not been for my search yesterday, I wouldn’t have found your amazing lesson on inverted conditionals and wouldn’t be able to explain it to my students tomorrow ;). HOwever, had it not been for my yesterday’s search, I wouldn’t feel confused about false conditionals like “If she only started her job last year, she probably isn’t earning much.”

    1. Nice one Veronika!

      Funny, impressively written and flattering! The magic combination!

      PS. If you replace “if only” with “I wish” in your head, then the sentence might be a bit less confusing. “If only” isn’t really a conditional.

      1. Hello Gabriel! I’m a little bit confused about this sentence: “If I had been born in Japan, not so many people would have criticized me for being so addictive to Japanese animation.” this is third conditional, isn’t it?

          1. Hello Gabriel! sorry I sent twice my first comment. I still have a question:
            “not so many people would have criticized me ”, this is 3rd conditional, isn’t it? (would+have+pp) if it was “many people would criticize me” then it will be mixed conditional (would+inf). I am a little bit confused. Thank you!

          2. Hi Gabriel! sorry I still don’t quite get it: if we have in the second half: would + have + pp verb (criticized: is this a verb -criticize- in pp?) isn’t it the second part of 3rd conditional?
            Thanks for your help, this is driving me crazy!

          3. Hi Maria,

            Yes. Basically if you have “if+past perfect” with “would+have+verb 3,” then you can call it 3rd conditional.

            I’m assuming that by “pp” you mean “past participle” and not “present perfect” or “past perfect.”

            Then, the past participle of “criticize” is “criticized.”

            Hope that helps!

      2. Hello Gabriel! I have a questions about this sentence: “If I had been born in Japan, not so many people would have criticized me for being so addictive to Japanese animation”, this is 3rd conditional, isn’t it? if it was “many people would criticize me” then it will be mixed conditional, am I right?.
        Thank you!

          1. Thank you very much for your help, Gabriel!
            Just now I realize, how many meanings “pp” has 🙂 haha, and you were right, I mean past participle.
            This is the best explanation I’ve ever read about conditionals. If I had not read this post, I might be crying now.
            Now you have a new follower.

    1. Yeah! Almost perfect.

      Do you mean you would do the searching now?

      In that case you need to use the (kind of tricky) continuous with “would”: “I would be searching for new vocabulary….”

      Well done, though!

      1. I mean I’m still at school. I didn’t read carefully and understand it much. But when I read it carefully again, I realised the important of it. Now I can make a lot of better sentences. This is one of my favorite: If I recieved one of my favorite shoes on the internet, I would keep it in a secret box, hide it under my bed and I do not thing with it, just see it and send it on its place.

    1. Great grammar, Jacob. You nailed the mixed conditional.

      Just a couple of vocab tips: “If I had listened to my mom SAYING I should have …”


      “I would be registered…”

      Good work!

  4. I wouldn’t understand this subject if I hadn’t seen your sentences.!
    But whst about using unless ,can you teach it too , please ??!!

    1. Nice work! And also I’m glad you understand this now 🙂

      “Unless” is pretty straight-forward. Just remember that it means “if not.”

      So your excellent sentence: “I wouldn’t understand this subject if I hadn’t seen your sentences!” could also read “I wouldn’t understand this subject unless I’d seen your sentences!”

      I hope that helps 🙂

  5. Thanks for compiling such a great post! Although it is almost perfect, I still have one question regarding the last mixed conditional example. Specifically, in the sentence “If it wasn’t winter, I would’ve walked home.”, shouldn’t we use the subjunctive “weren’t” instead of “wasn’t”? Since the mixed conditionals consist of mixing the if-clause in the 3rd cond. with the main clause in the 2nd cond. and the if-clause in the 2nd cond. with the main clause in the 3rd cond., the sentence above want to contrast with the fact that it isn’t winter now (present unreal conditional), so we should use it “weren’t” winter. Otherwise, the if-clause simply states a past simple negation without forming a conditional as required in the 2nd and the 3re conditionals.

    Thanks for your efforts again and keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Calvin and thanks for your well thought-out comment.

      It’s very difficult to have an “if” followed by a past simple form without it feeling hypothetical.

      It’s true that we might want to talk non-hypothetically about the past, and that we might well use the past simple: “If he talked to the boss, we’re in trouble!” (We might also use the present perfect perfect, too: “If he’s talked to the boss, we’re in trouble!”).

      However, I don’t think this means we should distinguish between “If I was …” and “If I were …” Why? Because they’re both commonly used to express a hypothetical situation (the 2nd conditional). Context will (almost) always make it clear whether the speaker is speaking hypothetically or not.

      The fun thing about the subjunctive in this case is that “If I was … ” and “If I were …” amount to more or less the same thing, which means we can choose which one we want to use — subjunctive or not.

      The only difference I’d observe is that within my language circles, “If I were …” sounds somewhat more sophisticated while “If I was …” has a more colloquial feel to it.

      Does that make sense?

      Thanks for the positive feedback!

  6. If I had played computer games when I was a student, I would be addicted to them and didn’t have time for a lot of interesting things in real life.

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