Published 16th November 2018

Mixed conditional

If you were asked which is the most confusing grammar point for your students, what would you say? Present perfect? Phrasal verbs? Adverbials?What about the mixed conditional?

Conditionals themselves are tricky little monsters but when we bring in the added dimension of mixing them, you can usually see your students’ minds imploding. Of course, learning about mixed conditionals and how to use them needn’t be so challenging but many students find themselves getting in a muddle with them. It’s our duty to show our students how much fun mixed conditionals can be, while still making sure they understand and know how to use them appropriately and effectively.

What is a mixed conditional?

Let’s get the facts straight first. What is a mixed conditional? A mixed conditional is when the two parts of a conditional sentence refer to two different time periods. For example, it could be describing a present result from a past condition

If I had studied Medicine, I would be a doctor.

or a past condition of a present result

If I didn’t trust him I wouldn’t have told him.

As you can imagine, this jump in time can be rather confusing for our students. However, when you get into it, dealing with mixed conditionals can be really fun. Activities used to teach mixed conditionals are creative and imaginative and, as a result, interesting.

A mixed conditional activity

Here is a great activity you can try the next time you are teaching mixed conditionals.

Hand out papers to the students. Each paper must be divided into two, clearly labelled past and present/future. Each student or pair of students must be given two counters of some sort – two coins, two animals, two game pieces, anything. Each piece must be designated as either the if or the result clause.

Ask your students to create conditional sentences or, alternatively, you can create a situation which lends itself to conditional sentences. As your students make up the sentences, they must put their counters on the appropriate time frame that they wish to communicate.

For example, they could come up with sentences like:

If I hadn’t overslept, I wouldn’t be in such a hurry.

In this case they would put the if counter on the past section of the paper and the result clause on the present section of the paper. Doing this will make your students think carefully about what they want to say before they say it. If necessary, you can write up the grammar for each section to remind them of the structure of the sentence.

Bear in mind, your students are doing this from the standpoint of the meaning of the sentence, not the grammar. The divided pieces of paper are there to focus your students on the correct grammar and help you the teacher and the other students ensure they are using the correct grammar.

It may sound a little confusing at first but once your students get the hang of it they should find creating mixed conditional sentences much easier.