IELTS speaking: advanced grammatical structures in part 3 (conditionals)

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In this tutorial you will learn:

  1. How to use conditionals for real and unreal situations

This will help you in your IELTS speaking exam because:

  1. You will learn to use more complex grammar structures for part 3 of the exam.

In part 3 of the speaking test you need to elaborate on the topic from part 2. 

The questions in this stage are usually broader and more challenging than the first two stages. 

For instance, in part two the examiner may ask you to: 

“describe a wedding you have been to,”

Whereas in stage three they may ask 

“How are weddings different between cultures?”

“In what ways have our ideas of marriage changed over the past 20 years?”

In this tutorial we look at how we can answer difficult and complex questions with the help of conditional sentences. 

Why you should use conditional (if) sentences in part three of the exam

The best way to approach part three of the exam is to expand your answers as much as possible. 

The topics are usually very broad, and the examiner wants to hear you speak in depth about a topic not answer as quickly as possible. 

By discussing a question in detail, you will be able to show the examiner a greater range in your vocabulary, fluency, and grammar and so get a higher score!

Although there are many ways to elaborate on your answers, one of the most effective ways is through the use of conditional statements. 

Generally speaking, there are two types of conditional statements: Real and hypothetical (unreal). Let's look at these two types and when we should use them.

Real conditionals

Real conditionals are used to talk about what you expect to happen from an event. The sentence is made of two parts the ‘if clause’ (if it rains) and the main clause (I will get wet). 

The main clause usually uses ‘will’ or ‘going to’ or the present continuous.  


If + statement + subject + will

For example: 

  • If it rains today, I will get wet.
  • If I drink coffee now, I won't sleep later. 

How to use ‘real conditionals’ in part three of IELTS speaking

Real conditionals are useful for predicting present or future events. Let’s take a look at an example from a speaking test:

Examiner: What difficulties do couples getting married experience?

Candidate: I imagine it must be difficult knowing who to invite. If you invite one friend, you will have to invite all your friends! I think it must create a lot of problems for…

In this example, the test taker has decided to use a ‘real conditional' to explore possible problems that they think will come out of a decision. 

By doing this, the speaker can expand on their ideas by following logical connections. 

This will allow the speaker to demonstrate more language to the examiner.

Hypothetical conditionals

Hypothetical conditionals are used for situations that are not real or that you don’t believe would happen. 

Like the real conditional, the sentence is made up of two parts, the ‘If clause (If I won the lottery) and the ‘main clause’ (I would buy a new house). 

The difference is that the verb in the ‘if clause’ takes the past simple form and the ‘main clause’ uses ‘would’. 


If + Past simple + subject + would + present simple

 For example:

  • If I won the lottery, I would buy a new house. (You know you probably won’t win the lottery)
  • If I broke my friend’s phone, I wouldn’t tell them. (You know you probably won’t break your friend’s phone.

The above examples talk about unreal events in the present or future. But what about past events? In the examples below the ‘if clause’ changes to the past perfect form and the ‘main clause’ uses would. 

The speaker already knows what has happened in the past but wants to talk about how things would be different now if the past were different. 


If + past perfect + subject + would+ present perfect

Let’s look at two examples.

  • If I had known, I wouldn’t have asked (you didn't know, so you asked) 
  • If I had studied more for the exam I would have passed (I didn’t study for the exam)

How to use ‘hypothetical conditionals’ in part three of IELTS speaking.

Hypothetical conditionals are great for connecting ideas together. Let’s look at an exam takers response to a question.

Examiner: ‘How are weddings different between cultures?”

Candidate: Well, in the US the bride wears white, but if you got married in China you would wear red. The bride wears red in Vietnam because…..

In this example, you and the speaker both know you are not going to get married in China. They are using this example to give themselves a new topic to talk about more deeply, in this case, the color of wedding dresses and its meaning.

Another excellent use for hypothetical conditionals is to examine possible presents and possible pasts.  Let's look at an exam takers response to a question:

Examiner: ‘In what ways have our ideas of marriage changed over the past 20 years?’

Candidate: In the past, there was a much lower divorce rate than there is today. I think that if I got divorced twenty years ago, my friends and family would judge me differently than today. For example…..

In this example, we can see that the speaker has created a whole new topic to talk about: Views on divorce 20 years ago. 

The test taker can now go much more in-depth and explore many ideas related to the question. 

With this new topic, the speaker can show off their knowledge of vocabulary, past forms, passive forms, etc.


We have looked at a lot of grammar in this article, but it really comes down to one simple idea. In part three of the oral exam the examiner wants to see if the test taker can talk in depth about a topic. 

They want to see how much language you have to talk about a single topic. One of the most effective ways to do this is to take advantage of imagining real and unreal situations by using conditional sentences.  

Audio tutorial

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