Teaching conditionals - Some tips for teachers

Check knowledge of irregular verbs

Your students need to know how to form past forms of irregular verbs before you can move onto the condionals.

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Use Real Examples

I've found that the best way of teaching grammar is giving examples, real life ones or personalized ones if possible.

e.g. If Iñaki Williams hadn't scored a goal, Athletic wouldn't have won the match. (3rd Conditional)

Use the Student's L1

Also highlight the differences between the L1 and L2.
Eg. Si huberías estudiado, habrías aprobado el examen.


Explain that we do not have the subjunctive like in Spanish so we use the past perfect for the 3rd conditional and the past simple for the 2nd conditional.

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Students devise rules

Ask your student to complete the rules for the conditionals as research has shown this helps with learning them.

Eg. 3rd Coditional: If + subject +........ + past participle, subject + ......... +.......... + past participle.

Answer: If + subject + HAD + past participle, subject + WOULD + HAVE + past participle

Conditionals in Speaking

Use conditionals in speaking practice by getting students to discuss hypothetical situations.

For example:

  • What would you do if you won the lottery?
  • If you were fluent in English, what benefits would this bring you?

Conditionals in Reading

Raise awareness of how conditionals are used in written text. Give your students a text, prefably one containing lots of conditional structures, and get your students to highlight them.

e.g. If someone had not taken a fake photo of the Loch Ness monster, people wouldn't have believed that it existed. (3rd Conditional)

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You could then ask your students to take this sentence and make different conditional sentences. For example:

If someone had not taken a fake photo of the Loch Ness monster, people wouldn't believe that it exists. (Mixed Conditional)

Mixed Conditionals

Look again at this example:

If someone had not taken (3rd) a fake photo of the Loch Ness monster, people wouldn't believe (2nd) that it exists.

The notorious fake photo of Nessie was taken in 1934, so the condition (if someone hadn't taken..) is in the past so we use the 3rd conditional structure. Many people still believe in the existence of the monster now, so the hypotheical result (people wouldn't believe..) refers to the present, so we use the 2nd conditional structure.

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Advanced-level students should learn and practise using mixed conditionals. We can only mix the 3rd and 2nd conditionals. The above example is an example of a hypothetical present result. However, the condition can also refer to the present and the hypothetical result to the past, for example:

If I were taller (present - 2nd), I could have reached (past - 3rd) the top shelf on my own.

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