Unreal Conditionals

There are two kinds of conditional sentences: real and unreal. Real conditionals are used to talk about real situations. Unreal conditionals refer to imaginary, hypothetical and of course, unreal situations. Although they might seem quite abstract, they are very useful in everyday conversational English.

There are two types of unreal conditionals: Present and Past.

Present unreal conditionals, also known as the second conditional.

IF condition result
past simple WOULD/ SHOULD/COULD/MIGHT +  infinitive 
If I won the lottery I would buy a car.
If I won a million dollars I could stop working

This conditional is also used to give adviceIf I were you, I would buy a new car.

Past unreal conditionals also known as the third conditional


If + Past Perfect / would have + past participle

would have + past participle / if + Past Perfect


The Past Unreal Conditional is used to talk about imaginary situations in the past. You can describe what you would have done differently or how something could have happened differently if circumstances had been different.


  • If I had owned a car, I would have driven to work. But I didn’t own one, so I took the bus.
  • She would have travelled around the world if she had had more money. But she didn’t have much money, so she never travelled.
  • I would have read more as a child if I hadn’t watched so much TV. Unfortunately, I did watch a lot of TV, so I never read for entertainment.
  • Mary would have got the job and moved to Japan if she had studied Japanese in school instead of French.

Try these quizzes and exercises to practise here, here and here.

Watch this extract from the film Benjamin Button

This entry was posted in Face2face Intermediate, Grammar, Lesson 12, Lesson 7, Speak Out Intermediate, Textbook, Unit 6, Unit 9. Bookmark the permalink.

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