As an EFL learner I know that the first one is second conditional and the next is third conditional. I just want to explain the meaning of the two sentences to my mother, who is learning English, so that she could get the difference just by reading to paraphrased sentences in simple English. Would you mind just paraphrasing the sentences so the difference in meanings would be understandable?

Should I tell her that in second conditional there is a possibility to buy a memory card, but in the third conditional you do not have a chance to buy it even if you have money now?

  1. If I had money, I would buy an extra memory card to transfer and save data more easily.

  2. If I had had money, I would have bought an extra memory card to transfer and save data more easily.

2 Answers 2


The primary difference is simply one of tense:

  • *If I had money . . . * may have either non-past or past reference:

    NON-PAST: [I can assure you now that] if I had money now (or if I come into money in the near future) I would buy a card in the present (or near future).
    PAST: [I assured him then that] if I had money then (or if I came into money in the near future) I would buy a card at that time (or shortly thereafter).

  • If I had had money . . . has only past reference:

    [I can assure you now / I assured him then that] if I had had money then I would have bought a card at that time.

However, these bear quite different semantic implicatures:

  • The irrealis use of the simple past tense had leaves the possibility open that either you actually do have the money now or did have the money then, or might at some time subsequent to whichever time you are talking about come into possession of the money.

  • The quasi-perfect construction had had, which imposes an exclusively past reference on the irrealis had, cannot bear that open-possibility interpretation. The past eventuality is over-and-done-with, and the irrealis use implies that in fact you did not have the money at that time and therefore could not buy the card at that time.

  • +1 for getting this new information. I didn't know so far that English second conditional can refer to either present or past events, exactly like in my language. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 15:07
  • @LucianSava Apparently it's never taught that way. But there's no such thing in English grammar (as opposed to English pedagogy) as nth conditionals. English has, literally, scores of different conditionals; nth conditionals are just baby rules for teaching English, and should be discarded as soon as they start contradicting the actual facts on the ground. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 15:22

Following the guidelines of Conditional Sentences, If I possessed the money at this present time,--- and If I had possessed the money at the given time in the past,---. Should you tell her about the possibilities? No, not according to sentence condition. The third condition still leaves the possibility open of buying the card in the future. An example of the chance no longer being possible, if the card was only available for a limited time, now expired, your chance to purchase would be gone. But that would be based upon outside circumstances, not sentence condition.

  • The usage of had had might be confusing, the first had being an auxiliary verb in the past perfect tense, and the last being a verb of possession. In OPs example 2, the past and past to present opportunities to buy are gone, but present or future opportunities would still exist. The memory card might no longer be available for purchase, but that would again be by circumstance, not sentence condition.
    – JimM
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 15:03
  • Someone correct me if the first had is a linking verb, rather than auxiliary.
    – JimM
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 15:06
  • 1
    The final had in each 'chain' (thus the only had in the first example) is not a "linking verb" (copula is another technical term). It takes an object, not a "predicate complement", so it's an ordinary lexical verb -- more specifically, a transitive verb. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 15:25
  • @StoneyB, Thank you.Transitive verb is the term I had in mind, but couldn't think of it.
    – JimM
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 15:33

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