The home could have been burned in the fire if the firefighters hadn't arrived.

My intuition is that although the form is similar to third conditional, it is not third conditional. Because we use third conditional about wishes in the past. Also this could be written in following form using just "could have" and not "could have been" Could have burned.

  • What makes you think that it's not?
    – Helix Quar
    Mar 26, 2014 at 10:41
  • Because we use third conditional about wishes in the past.
    – user5036
    Mar 26, 2014 at 10:50
  • If I tell you it is 3rd conditional, what will you understand? Did the house burn? Did the firefighters arrive?
    – JMB
    Mar 26, 2014 at 10:53
  • @JMB - Yes, the house did not burn, but the firefighters arrived. Now I think I am understanding what you mean. It was confusing because of " had not" that is in negative. Usuall thirdconditional is not in negative: If I had gone to university, I could have taken a better job. All of this is in the past and this is an immaginary situation. Thanks a lot.
    – user5036
    Mar 26, 2014 at 11:20
  • Well it is a form of 3rd conditional. I just wanted to see what conclusion you'd been able to make for yourself. See my answer.
    – JMB
    Mar 26, 2014 at 11:45

1 Answer 1


This is a form of 3rd conditional (which combines "If + past perfect/past modal, perfect conditional - note, your example has the clauses reversed).

It is a bit more difficult for a language learner since the if clause comes in the second part. Also adding to the difficulty is the use of "could have" which adds an extra layer of "imaginary situation".

Let's see: 3rd conditionals express the opposite of reality (imaginary situations, wishes, desires etc)

If the firefighters hadn't arrived


The firefighters arrived


The home could have burned


The home didn't burn

Note that "could have burned" indicates that there was only a chance for it to burn if the firefighters hadn't come.

I think the sentence sounds better (second part of your question) if we say:

The home could have burned (down) in the fire if the firefighters hadn't arrived.

"Been burned" as a passive structure doesn't sound quite as good to me as the active structure I've suggested here.

  • Beyond sounding better, What is the difference between passive " have been burned" and "have burned" . I have a hard time making third conditional not using " passive" . I would be greatful if you could help me out with this issue. I am an advanced EFL learner and this is a serious problem I have. It comes from where that I coulf not notice a differnce in meaning using passive and then I go for passive. A million thanks in advance.
    – user5036
    Mar 26, 2014 at 12:03
  • You may be better asking this as a separate question with some specific doubts. All I can really say in this case is that (for example) "people are/get burned (by fire)" while a house "burns" (it is the thing that is burning).
    – JMB
    Mar 26, 2014 at 12:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .