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!


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

  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.
    Thanks!

  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. 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 …”

      and

      “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 🙂

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