#298: Mixed Conditions Part 1 [+ FREE Worksheet]

Dec 20, 2023 | Conditionals in English, Free Resource, Grammar

Without a doubt, in your years of English practice, you’ve studied the conditionals. 

Your brain might be racing right now thinking… conditionals? Conditionals? Oh yeah, there’s the first conditional. And the second, I think?

That’s right. There are 4, in fact. The zero, the first, the second, and the third.

And now I’ve got a twist. We also have mixed conditionals. 

 

As you might guess, mixed conditionals mix the structural forms of other conditionals. 

For example:

  • If we had downloaded the directions (to our app) before losing our signal, we wouldn’t be lost right now.

Here, I’ve mixed the third and second conditionals.

 

If you’re thinking… ugh, this sounds confusing. I hear you. Conditionals can be tricky.

But don’t worry — I am here to walk with you step-by-step through 1 specific type of mixed conditionals. Conditionals that blend the unreal past with an unreal present or future. 

And more importantly, we’ll talk about why you will want to use this mixed conditional form. 

By the end, you’ll feel more confident with three specific uses of this mixed conditional in English.

So get a notebook and a pen or pencil to take notes and practice with me. 

You can also download my FREE Mixed Conditionals worksheet below the video lesson.

Mixed Conditionals in English Grammar | Unreal Past and Present

Conditional Review

Let’s start with a quick recap of the 4 English conditionals you’ve studied in the past and WHY we need mixed conditionals.

  • The Zero Conditional for general truths/facts and routines.
    • If you heat ice, it melts.
  • The First Conditional for likely present/future situations — such as making a promise or giving a warning.
    • If you cook dinner tonight, I will do the dishes.
  • The Second Conditional for unreal, unlikely, or even impossible present or future situations. 
    • If I had one extra hour in the day, I would spend that time painting.
  • The Third Conditional for unreal past situations. Situations for which we may express regret because it didn’t happen the way we hoped or preferred.
    • If you had told me you needed help, I would’ve canceled the trip and stayed home to help.

Why We Need Mixed Conditionals

Each conditional is focused on actions or situations within a specific time. For example, the second with the unreal/unlikely present/future. The third conditional with the unreal past.

Mixed conditionals allow us to transition through time. We can connect how something from the past influences the present or future.

Let’s compare a second, third, and mixed conditional to see this in action:

  • If we had a good cell phone signal (now), we could download the directions (now). 
    • Second Conditional — I’m imagining an unreal or alternative present moment. The truth is, we don’t have a good signal, so we can’t download Google Maps. I might wish the situation right now were different. But it can’t be.
  • If we had downloaded the directions before losing our signal (previously), we wouldn’t have gotten lost (yesterday). 
    • Third Conditional — I’m regretting a past situation that cannot change.
  • If we had downloaded the directions before losing our signal (previously), we wouldn’t be lost (now). 
    • Unreal Past Mixed Conditional — The truth is we didn’t download an app before we lost a signal, and now we’re lost. The past situation is impacting the present.

 

Connecting the Unreal Past to the Unreal Present/Future

We use the mixed conditional to express that an unreal or nearly impossible past condition would result in an equally unlikely present.

Let’s take a look at the structure of the unreal past mixed conditional with a few more examples. 

The Structure of the Unreal Past Mixed Conditionals

There are two structures we can use. The first and most common is:

If + Past Perfect + Would + Verb (Base Form)

For example: 

  • Ex. If I had remembered to pack my sunscreen, I wouldn’t have a sunburn now.

 

We can also use the following structure to be clear about unreal future situations.

If + Past Perfect + Would + Be + -ing Verb

For example, 

  • Ex. If you had accepted the job offer, you would be moving across the country next week. How are you feeling? Are you happy you’re staying here?

 

Here are several more examples: Unreal Past | Unreal Present/Future

  • If I had learned French as a kid, I would have a perfect French accent.
  • If she hadn’t received the scholarship, she wouldn’t be going to Harvard. Thank goodness she got it!
  • If I hadn’t spent all my bonus right away, I would have enough money saved to go to NYC with you next month. 
  • (Said while in the middle of running a marathon.) If I hadn’t trained as much as I did, this would feel more difficult. But I’m feeling great!

Lastly, like other conditionals, the placement of the clauses can be switched in the sentence. 

  • If I had remembered to pack my sunscreen, I wouldn’t have this terrible sunburn.
  • I wouldn’t have this terrible sunburn if I had remembered to pack my sunscreen.

Use #1: Regrets & Missed Opportunities

Conditionals are often used to express regret.

And when a regretful, unreal past impacts the present moment, mixed conditionals are ideal. 

    • Ex. She would be able to pay off her house right now if she had invested in that stock when you told her to.
    • Ex. If my daughter hadn’t missed her flight, I wouldn’t need to spend more money on a ticket.
    • Ex. If I had pursued art at a younger age, I would probably be a better artist. But, better late than never.

    Let’s briefly compare how we might express regret in the second conditional form vs. a mixed conditional.

    • If I spoke Spanish (now), I wouldn’t need to rely on a translator (now/future).

    This second conditional sentence expresses regret for the inability to speak Spanish in the present and a wish for a different outcome in the present/future. 

    As a mixed conditional, this sentence would be:

    • If I had learned Spanish (in the past), I wouldn’t need to rely on a translator (now/future).”

    In this sentence, I’m expressing a regret that I didn’t learn Spanish in the past and (now I) wish to have a different present/future situation. 

    Use #2: Share Assumptions

    You can also use mixed conditionals to express assumptions about a present result of a past action/event.

    Imagine, for example, that you’re attending a lecture. An audience member asks the presenter a question that should be easy to answer. But the presenter is clearly struggling. You might whisper to a friend:

    • Ex. If she had done her research, she wouldn’t hesitate to answer the question.

    In this case, we are saying that we believe she did not (in fact) do her research and we’re assuming that if she had, she would be able to respond without hesitation.

    Truthfully, we don’t really know. Perhaps she was simply distracted by something. Our statement is an assumption.

    Here’s another example of an assumption we might make about how a person may respond in a situation. Perhaps you and a coworker are discussing a surprising meeting that occurred with your manager earlier in the day.

      • Ex. Melissa would be furious if she had heard the manager speak that way.

    Of course, you can’t know for certain how your coworker might feel but you can assume based on your knowledge of her.

      Use #3: Express Advice and Feedback

      Finally, we can use the mixed conditional to express advice or feedback in the present moment based on an unreal past situation.

      Critical Feedback

      Imagine you manage a team, and at the last minute, a team member needs to make a significant change or cannot complete a project. However, the situation could have been addressed much earlier to allow for better planning. In providing feedback, you might say:

      • Ex. If I had been informed earlier, when this issue initially began, our team would be better prepared to handle this request. How might we improve communication going forward to avoid putting extra stress on the team?

      In reality, no one knew this team member couldn’t finish the project until it was too late. Now, the team is under extra stress to adjust to this last-minute request.

      Advice to a New Coworker

      Imagine you work at a doctor’s office. A patient arrives and is frustrated that she can’t see the doctor immediately because she needs 10-15 minutes to complete a series of forms first. She didn’t know she needed to complete these forms.

      While training a new coworker, you might provide the following advice.

      • Ex. If she had completed the form online beforehand, she would be with the doctor by now. We always encourage clients to complete forms online to save time when they arrive for their doctor appointments.

      FREE Mixed Conditionals Worksheet

      I know that having the confidence to use this mixed conditional form with accuracy requires practice. That’s why I’ve created a downloadable PDF worksheet for you.

      On the worksheet, you’ll find 12 sentence prompts with the key words you should use in a sentence. 

      Using the verb tenses and structures you learned today, you can complete the sentences and check your answers with my own examples. 

      You can download the FREE Mixed Conditionals Worksheet with the form below the video lesson.

      And if you have questions or would like to share your own example sentences using these word pairs, you can share them directly with me in the comments below.

      ~ Annemarie

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