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What are mixed conditionals?

Mixed conditionals are a special kind of hypothetical/unreal conditional which combine EITHER a past condition with a present result, OR a present condition with a past result.

Here are two examples of mixed conditionals:

, .
, .

Recap of second and third conditionals

Mixed conditionals are basically a combination of a second and a third conditional.

If you’re not sure about conditionals, take a look at this overview of conditionals, and this post on the third conditional.

Just to recap, a second conditional includes a hypothetical, unreal condition in the present or future, and then a hypothetical, unreal result in the present or future. Basically, imagine something unreal or hypothetical now or in the future, and then imagine the result.

The structure is: if + past, would + verb

Here’s an example:

, .

In reality

In reality, however, I am not a doctor because I am not intelligent enough.

A third conditional includes a hypothetical, unreal past condition, and a hypothetical, unreal result in the past. Change something about the past, and then imagine the result in the past.

The structure is: If + past perfect, would have + past participle

Here’s an example:

, .

In reality

In reality, I didn’t become a doctor because I didn’t study medicine.

Mixed conditional are formed by mixing second and third conditionals. There are two possibilities:

Mixed conditional type 1: past-present

Mixed conditional 1: unreal past condition —> unreal present result

In this case, we change something about the past, and then imagine a present result of that change. The structure will be half a third conditional, and half a second conditional, like this:

If + past perfect, would + verb

Here’s an example:

, .

In reality

In reality, I am not a doctor (now) because I didn’t study medicine (in the past).

Mixed conditional type 2: present-past

Mixed conditional 1: unreal present condition —> unreal past result

We use this kind of mixed conditional to imagine a change in the present, and a past result of that change. The structure will be half a second conditional, and half a third conditional.

This sounds strange – how can a change in the present affect the past?

Listen to this sentence and see if you can understand how it works:

, .

In reality

In reality, I didn’t become a doctor (in the past) because I am not intelligent enough (now and in general).

The key with this kind of mixed conditional is that the present change is something general – something true now and true in the past.

Here’s another example:

, .

In reality

In this case, I didn’t give you a lift (yesterday, let’s say) because I don’t have a car (in general). 

Compare to this example:

, .

In reality

In this sentence, I didn’t give you a lift (yesterday), because I didn’t have my car yesterday. In general, I have a car, but I didn’t yesterday (maybe my partner was using it, or it was being repaired).

More examples

Here are some more examples of mixed conditionals. For each one, think carefully about the time that each part of the sentence is referring to. Is the sentence talking about a past action causing a present result? Or a present (general) action causing a past result?

Conclusion

Mixed conditionals can be confusing. Make sure you have a very clear understanding of second and third conditionals first, and then build on that foundation.

Whenever you see an unreal conditional (including mixed conditionals), try ‘converting’ them into reality as I’ve been doing in this exercise. This helps to clarify what is being communicated, and the times involved in the sentence.

e.g. If he hadn’t forgotten about the lesson, he would be here now = He isn’t here now because he forgot about the lesson.

Feel free to add your own mixed conditional examples in the comments, and I’ll check them for you.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Chris


Photo by Etactics Inc on Unsplash

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