everyone. I always think there are two types of 3rd conditional. One is use to express counterfactual situation in the past e.g.

He would have spurred the pony, but his father made them dismount beside the bridge and approach on foot.

But there is another type of 3rd conditional, which looks quite like the first type, used to show complete imagination of situation in the past.

e.g Robert Baratheon and his brothers were all big men, as was the Hound, and back at Winterfell there was a simpleminded stableboy named Hodor who dwarfed them all, but the knight they called the Mountain That Rides would have towered over Hodor.

So how do you differentiate these two type of 3rd conditional? Please let me know your opinions. Thank you for your help.

  • I'm not sure that the second statement is a 3rd conditional, because the descriptions of Robert and his brothers, of the Hound, of Hodor, and of the Mountain, actually exist. The first "part" of a 3rd conditional should be imaginary, a kind of alternate reality. With that in mind, only the first statement illustrates the 3rd conditional. A 3rd conditional should be able to be read as, "if this were true (though its not), then something else would be true". Can the second statement be read with this kind of format? I'm thinking not.
    – user30379
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 19:14
  • Thank you for your comment. So what category do you think the second example falls into?
    – thetazuo
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 4:55
  • 1
    @Charles: I disagree. The second example means, "the knight they called the Mountain That Rides would have towered over Hodor if they had met".
    – ruakh
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 1:46
  • @ruakh The second statement definitely isn't a 3rd conditional (even after considering your comment). If anything, I would think it to be a type 2 conditional.
    – user30379
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 1:53
  • 1
    @Charles: The reasoning in your latest comment makes no sense to me, but it doesn't matter. The whole concept of classifying conditionals as "first", "second", or "third" is a bad one, because it obscures the real patterns; so although the OP's two examples are both using the conditional perfect for the same reason (they're both describing past counterfactual situations), I don't actually care whether we all agree to label that reason "the third conditional".
    – ruakh
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 2:04

1 Answer 1


As @ruakh says, the numbered conditionals are a bad way to think about it, but more than that: there is no difference that matters in English grammar between a "partially imagined" situation (where he was actually on the horse, but didn't get the chance to spur it) and a "fully imagined" one (where they weren't even together so they didn't get a chance to compare their heights).

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