Callie used to live in juvie. Recently she has been staying with her foster parents. On the first night, her foster Mom and she had the following conversation:

Foster mom: I left some towels for you in the bathroom and do you have a toothbrush?
Callie: No, I don't have a toothbrush. How would I have gotten a toothbrush?

(from the TV Show Fosters)

I want to know if the bold part is a third conditional or not. I don't understand the use of would+have+p.p here.

3 Answers 3


I suppose it is the third conditional, describing an improbable past event. It relates to this statement:

I would have got (obtained) a toothbrush, if I was able.

Callie turns this into a rhetorical question that implies her foster mother should know that Callie would not have been able to buy herself a toothbrush -- i.e. it's an impossible situation.

Another example:

A: Did you get the answer to Question 3?
B: No, what was the professor thinking? How were we supposed to have known the answer? It wasn't in the study guide.


I think that if the answer to the question,

Do you have a toothbrush?


How could I have got a toothbrush?

that would mean that you can't even think of the opportunity/possibility of your obtaining the thing you are asked about.


How would I have (ever) got a toothbrush?

to me would mean the same, but with "on earth" (in mind) between:

How (on earth) would I have (ever) got a toothbrush?


I think this is similar to a third conditional, if not exactly that, if by this phrase you mean what is described here: https://www.perfect-english-grammar.com/third-conditional.html :

It talks about the past. It's used to describe a situation that didn't happen, and to imagine the result of this situation.

If she had studied, she would have passed the exam (but, really we know she didn't study and so she didn't pass)

That is almost what's going on here, though this is a (rhetorical) question and there is no "if" clause. Callie is making the point that she had no opportunity to get a toothbrush. She asks how it would have been possible for her to get a toothbrush, but not actually expecting an answer, since this is a rhetorical question, and the answer is clearly something like "There's no way I could've gotten a toothbrush."

A similar effect would have been achieved if Callie had said the following*:

If I hadn't just come from juvie, I would have gotten a toothbrush before coming here.

*(note my use of the third conditional here!)

You must log in to answer this question.

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