Mixed Conditionals

What are mixed conditionals?

Mixed conditionals are sentences that contain two different types of conditional; one clause is contains the second conditional and the other contains the third conditional. We use mixed conditionals when we want to refer to two different times in the same conditional sentence.

Example:
If I had studied medicine at uni, I would be a doctor now.
If I weren’t such a shy person, I would have made more friends when I was at school.

Mixed conditionals overview

Take a look at the table below for an overview of the different kinds of mixed conditional sentences in English grammar.

Example Conditional Type Meaning
If I spoke Mandarin,
I would have done the translation myself.
second conditional if-clause = imagined present situation
(I don’t speak Mandarin)
third conditional main clause = imagined past outcome
(I didn’t do the translation)
If I had put on sun cream earlier,
I wouldn’t be sunburned now.
third conditional if-clause = imagined past situation
(I didn’t put on sun cream)
second conditional main clause = imagined present outcome
(I am sunburned now)

Imagined present situation, imagined past outcome

When we use the second conditional in the if-clause, we introduce a condition that imagines the present as different to how it really is:

Example:
If I weren’t such a shy person, …
I am very shy

We can then combine this with a third conditional main clause to imagine a past outcome:

Example:
If I weren’t such a shy person, I would have made more friends at school.
I didn’t have many friends, I am reimagining the past

Imagined past situation, imagined present outcome

Alternatively, when we use the third conditional in the if-clause, we introduce a condition that reimagines the past:

Example:
If I had studied medicine, …
I didn’t study medicine, I studied something else

We can then combine this with a second conditional main clause to imagine an alternative present:

Example:
If I had studied medicine, I would be a doctor instead of a journalist.
I am not a doctor, I am a journalist