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I've heard the third conditional structure is used when the condition is not real. Here are some examples.

But I think I've come across an example that negates the above rule. Here it is:

If Alex had considered onboarding customers for those very old services, he might have had a similar opinion about the newer services.

To provide some context, there is some evidence that suggests Alex considered onboarding customers for the old services. On the other hand, new services are expected to be more important than the old ones. If Alex considered onboarding customers for the old services, chances are high that he considered onboarding customers for new services too.

Is it correct to say that while the third conditional is typically used when the condition is not real, this is not a strict requirement and can change depending on the context like the usage provided in the example above?

2 Answers 2

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I don’t see how this negates the general rule. The example sentence you provided strongly suggests that Alex did not consider onboarding customers for the very old services in the past, when he was with the company. Thus, it is an impossible situation.

  • I will admit that I’m a little confused about your context to begin with. It’s odd that you only know (for sure) that Alex was onboarding for old services, but not for new ones. The situation doesn’t make a lot of sense, basically.

In any case, going back to the grammar, your example sentence does not negate the third conditional rule. Your usage of the third conditional still indicates an impossible situation. The context you have provided does not match up with your sentence. In other words, you cannot use the third conditional to express the idea that your context seems to be pointing towards. Let’s do a side-by-side comparison with an alternative structure:

If Alex had considered onboarding customers for those very old services, he might have had a similar opinion about the newer services.

  1. If” here is used to indicate an impossible situation under the third conditional rule. We are imagining a situation in which “Alex had considered onboarding customers for very old services.”
  2. had considered” is also part of this impossibility structure. We are referring to a situation that has happened and concluded in the past, which we cannot change.

If Alex was considering onboarding customers for those very old services, he might have had a similar opinion about the newer services.

  1. If” here means “given.” It is no longer part of the third conditional structure, and in this context, it is used to indicate that we already know “ Alex was considering onboarding customers for very old services.”
  2. Here’s the key difference!was considering” is NOT the same as “had considered.” In the latter case, “had” is not functioning as part of past tense, per se; it is functioning as part of past tense conditional, specifically third conditional. We are saying that something in the past was not true, and thus a consequential situation is impossible. In the former case, “was” is functioning solely to indicate past tense. That is, we are saying that something in the past was true for sure.
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  • Thank you very much! I really appreciate your help!!!
    – Jeff
    Feb 28, 2022 at 15:04
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    I had tried "If Alex considered" and "If Alex had considered" but was happy with neither because they represent the second and third structure, respectively, and I knew both these conditionals are used with unreal conditions. I had not thought of "If Alex was considering" which uses the past continuous tense!
    – Jeff
    Feb 28, 2022 at 15:13
  • I find it interesting that switching from "simple past" (If Alex considered) to "past continuous" (If Alex was considering) can make such a big difference. Please let me know if you are aware of any other scenario where a simple change like this can so substantially change the meaning.
    – Jeff
    Feb 28, 2022 at 15:13
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This sentence implies that Alex did not consider onboarding customers for the old services.

This is, at least the "null" hypothesis that the speaker is making. The speaker then considers the alternative and finds it implausible, and this provides evidence for her original belief that Alex did not consider onboarding customers for old services.

Presumably, the next line is "But Alex didn't consider onboarding customers for new services."

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  • Thank you for your response. I think I described my question very badly. Let me try asking it differently.
    – Jeff
    Feb 27, 2022 at 23:41
  • Consider the following scenario. Alex was a manager at our company last year. He is no longer with us. We have found some strong evidence suggesting that he had considered onboarding customers for some very old services in our company when he was present. This is given and there's no doubt about it. A question we are facing now is whether he considered onboarding customers for our newer services too or not. We know new products in our company are more popular than the old products. This makes us believe Alex considered onboarding customers for new products too. (1/3)
    – Jeff
    Feb 27, 2022 at 23:48
  • I tried to describe the above thought process in the following sentence: "If Alex had considered onboarding customers for those very old services, he might have had a similar opinion about the newer services." (2/3)
    – Jeff
    Feb 27, 2022 at 23:49
  • Do you think the above sentence can convey the message I had in mind? If not, would it be possible to share how you would describe the above situation? (3/3 - Last note.)
    – Jeff
    Feb 27, 2022 at 23:51
  • "If Alex considered onboarding customers for the old services, he would probably have [also considered it for the new services]." Feb 28, 2022 at 9:41

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