IELTS Exam Preparation

Unreal Hypothetical and Impossible conditionals

Second conditional, Third conditional and Mixed conditional statements with explanations about when to use? how to use? along with examples.

In the previous article, you have learned about Real possible conditionals. In this article, you will learn about conditionals, which can be used to talk about unreal/imaginary, hypothetical, impossible situations. There are three categories of unreal conditionals based tenses used in the condition and the result.

Second Conditional Statement

Second conditional statements are used if you want to express unreal/untrue/imaginary present and its result. In simple words, you are saying the opposite of the current situation. Similar to real conditional, second conditional also has two parts, the condition and the result. Although you want to express unreal/false situation of Present, tense you are going to use is the Simple past. Here you might confuse about using simple past tense for the present unreal situation, but as it is unreal/imaginary/hypothetical, in English, we refer to the simple past tense. This is important and many people make mistakes here often. Expressing result for such an imaginary situation is very easy, we use 'would', 'might' or 'could' followed by the base form of the verb or if no verb then be.

Structure

Condition : if + subject + past simple tense Result : subject + would/might/could + base verb

Depending on the result we decide which model verb to use.

'would' is used when the outcome of an unreal/imaginary condition is more certain or definite. Whenever you use such conditional statement, make sure you support this implicit understanding by explaining further in IELTS speaking or writing. This is because of two reasons; one examiner will understand that know conditional with full flexibility and second you provided an answer with fully developed.

Eg. If I had a chance to change something in my house, I would replace all the old furniture with the modern one, because I prefer the latest designs, but currently, I stay in a rental apartment.

'might' is used when the result of the unreal/imaginary condition is not sure or certain. Whenever you use such conditional statement, make sure you support this implicit understanding by explaining further in IELTS speaking or writing. This is because of two reasons; one examiner will understand that know conditional with full flexibility and second you provided an answer with fully developed.

Eg. If I visited Australia, I might go to see the Coral reef, but I'm not certain about it because I have a tight schedule at the business meeting.

'could' is used when talking about abilities, possibilities, no matter whether those would be certain or not. Eg. If won the million-dollar lottery, I could buy a home, I could start my own business. However, you are certain that you definitely do a particular thing then you should use 'would'

Eg. If won the million-dollar lottery, I would buy home and I would start my own business. This is because buying home and starting own business is my first preference and I would certainly do it.

Third Conditional Statement

The Third conditional statements are used if you want to express the past result of the past imaginary/unreal situation/condition. We often use it to express regret. To construct the third conditional we use past perfect to express the condition/situation and model verb followed by present perfect tense for the result in the past.

Structure

Condition : if + past perfect tense

Result : subject + would/might/could + (have + Past participle of verb) present perfect tense

Eg. If I had woken earlier, I wouldn't have been late for the office.

This can be written in reverse order as well.

Eg. I wouldn't have been late for the office if I had woken earlier.

Model verb choices for would/might/could are similar to that of the second conditional statements.

Mixed Conditional Statement

So far we have learned that in the second conditional context is related to the present unreal condition and present possible result; however, tense we use differently. In the third conditional context is related to the past unreal condition and past unreal result. But what if the condition and the result are in different tenses, for this, we use mixed conditional.

Condition from the second conditional and Result from the third conditional

The structure would be the mix of second conditional and third conditional as below:

Condition : if + subject + past simple tense

Result : subject + would/might/could + (have + Past participle of verb) present perfect tense

This mixed conditional is used when the current situation affected the past result. Confusing right, for example, my IELTS score is 6.0, but to apply for MS in the Western country it is required to have at least 7.0 in previous selection criteria. Then I can as below:

If I scored 7.0 in IELTS, I would have taken admission at the University of New York.

Another example. I would have migrated to France If I knew the French language fluently.

Condition from the third conditional and Result from the second conditional

The structure would be the mix of second conditional and third conditional as below:

Condition : if + past perfect tense

Result : subject + would/might/could + base verb

This mixed conditional is used when the past situation affected the present result.:

If I had scored 7.0 in IELTS, I would take admission at the University of New York.[Here, it means that in the past I didn't get 7.0 score; thus, its affected current result]

Another example. I would migrate to France If I had known the French language fluently.