What are Mixed Conditionals? (Part 1)

Travelling Through Time with Mixed Conditionals

Time travel is impossible, right?

Not really!

We do it all the time… through language.

Consider the mixed conditional: in one sentence a writer or speaker can travel between the past, present, or future.

To understand mixed conditionals, we first need to go over the fundamentals of the simple and perfect tenses.

Which Simple Tense do I use with Mixed Conditionals?

We use simple tense when describing whether an action happened generally in the past, present, or future, as in the following examples of the verb “to be”:

  • I was at the park.
  • I am at the park.
  • I will be at the park.

With simple tense, we understand an event as happening almost in a timeless void, unconnected to any other events.

Making Mixed Conditionals with the Perfect Tense

When we shift to perfect tense, the action being described can only be understood specifically in relation to some other event or action. The Perfect tense incorporates “helping verbs,” as in the following examples:

  • Past perfect: “I had been at the park, but now I am home.” Here, the speaker was not just at the park sometime in the past, but specifically at the park before now being at home.
  • Present perfect: “I have been at the park all day.” Here, the speaker is not just at the park but has been continually at the park up until – and including – the moment of speaking.
  • Future perfect: “In one hour, I will have been at the park for an entire day.” Here, the speaker describes a future event that specifically depends on what’s happening in the present.

Mixing it Up

All the above scenarios describe relatively certain events.

When we start to speculate on the past, present, and future, we get into mixed conditionals. The following posts will go into greater detail on these sentences, looking at present and then perfect conditionals.