conditional type 3

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conditional type 3

Post by Colinrobbie »


can you please confirm why the following sentence is correct 2if you WERE lonely, you should have called me" and why the following one sounds wrong "If you HAD BEEN lonely, you should have called me"?

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Re: conditional type 3

Post by Alan »

A very good question!

Yes, your expectation as to the correctness - versus the actual incorrectness - of the second sentence is perfectly understandable, given that we are generally taught that "if + were" is for the present, and "if + had been" is for the past.

The explanation in this case, is that, in this case, we are actually dealing with a fundamentally different kind of conditional sentence, and one which is not typically taught in EFL.

The kind of conditional sentence normally taught to intermediate(+) English learners is termed PREDICTIVE. It is intended to describe the results of a cause which may be possible/probable (viz. zero and 1st conditionals) or counterfactual/hypothetical (viz. 2nd & 3rd conditionals).

Sometimes, however, we require a NONPREDICTIVE conditional. In this type, where 'if' has a meaning more akin to "assuming" or even "given the fact that", the tense used in the if-clause is the "normal" tense for the time frame in question, i.e. simple past (was/were, etc.) for the actual past, and present (is/are/...) for the actual present, e.g.

If Paul was smoking before the exam, it is only because he was nervous.

In this case, rather than a simple cause-and-effect sequence, we have a notion that is temporarily allowed as a possibility ("perhaps Paul was smoking; perhaps he was not, but let us say for the sake of argument that he was...").

Compare this with a more typical predictive conditional, such as

If Paul WERE at any time caught smoking at work, he would immediately be fired.

where 'were' refers to a purely hypothetical present/future, as opposed to a possible past, event.