"If David didn't give up smoking, Liza wouldn't marry him." I only can see that sentence in the 3rd conditional (unreal past) - "If David hadn't given up smoking, Liza wouldn't have married him". But I don't understand its meaning in the 2nd conditional. Is it just me, or this sentence doesn't work in the 2nd conditional?

  • In the right context it works fine. His mother wanted him to get married but she knew that if David didn't give up smoking, Liza wouldn't marry him. She told her neighbour, "If David doesn't give up smoking, Liza won't marry him." "Hide his cigarettes," the neighbour said. ['Neighbor'? Is that how they spell it in the US? They leave the difficult bit but drop the 'u'? Sheesh!] May 16, 2020 at 0:02
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    Hehe, ye, if you use it as the 1st conditional but in reported speech, it does of course. Thanks! And why do you consider "o" a difficult part in neighbour?:D
    – Ceejay
    May 16, 2020 at 7:10
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    @RrockCj - 'neigh' is the 'difficult' part in neighbour/neighbor, I think. May 16, 2020 at 8:01

2 Answers 2


Let's look at this in the present tense:

If David does not give up smoking, Liza does not marry him.

To me, this sounds a bit informal, but not necessarily incorrect. I would say:

If David does not give up smoking, Liza will not marry him.

To illustrate the usage of the former, imagine a question and answer scenario, like this:

And what happens if David doesn't give up smoking?

Then Liza doesn't marry him. Now quit your worrying!

Again, what will happen and will not marry could be better choices, but dialogue is often imperfect.

With these insights, let's send the verbs back to the past. *time travel noises* Once more we have:

If David didn't give up smoking, Liza wouldn't marry him.

Let's imagine another question and answer scenario:

Why wouldn't Liza marry David?

He didn't quit smoking. Never had much self-control.

I 'reversed' the exchange because we can now distinguish between the cause (David did not stop smoking) and effect (Liza would not marry him). A cause and an effect can form an 'if-then' statement, which is what you are reading.

If [cause], then [effect].

If David didn't give up smoking, [then] Liza wouldn't marry him.

Hope this helps!

  • Well, the problem is even though you say "let's send verbs back in the past" it's not the past, is it? 3rd conditional is, 2nd conditional is not, it's present. Say, "If I were smart, I would yada yada". "If I were smart means "I AM not smart", in the present. We don't talk about the past when using 2nd conditional.
    – Ceejay
    May 19, 2020 at 11:54
  • @RrockCj School never taught me what 2nd or 3rd conditionals are, so if you're trying to become fluent in everyday situations or just trying to read the book, those things don't matter. I was simply trying to illustrate my intuitive understanding of the sentence as a native speaker. May 19, 2020 at 17:48

The way I see it, the reason that sentence is in the SECOND Conditional is because THE OPPOSITE context happened, making the situation specified in your sentence IMPOSSIBLE to happen anymore.

So, if you say: "If David didn't give up smoking..." <- the fact you mentioned the conditional clause in the simple past means that this is something unlikely to happen, which is what the 2nd Conditional is all about. Therefore what happened is the opposite, or: David gave up on smoking and Liza married him.

Now, to your question: Yes, it also makes sense to work with the 3rd Conditional, but that would imply that David either didn't care about marrying Liza or he could not quit smoking. So currently, he still smokes. So now we use the 3rd Conditional to express that David REGRETS about his decision or misses Liza. That's what the 3rd Conditional is all about, expressing a past regret (or in other words, a regret about a decision made in the past). Therefore: "If David had given up smoking, he would've married Liza".

I hope that helps you out.

  • Ye, "the situation specified in your sentence IMPOSSIBLE to happen anymore." - that should be the 3rd conditional right there
    – Ceejay
    Jun 22, 2020 at 10:57

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