A question about mixed conditionals

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serhioses

Member
Russian, Russian - Ukrainian
Hi there! Mixed conditionals is a very difficult topic for me, and I've watched a lot of videos about it. But one of them was very special because there were two examples which confused me. "If you didn't study computers in high school, you might find this course difficult" and "If you didn't want to buy that shirt, you shouldn't have". Why do they refer to a specific situation in the past? In all the videos I've watched it's said that Past Simple refers to the present and we should think about it in general. So we should understand "If you didn't want to..." in general, not like at a specific time in the past but always. This is the only one video I've found such examples and I can't realize why they are about the past? Because the teacher said that they refer to the past and if so I don't understand why not to use Past Perfect for the if clause.
The author is one of my favorite teachers, but in this case I don't understand him.
 
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  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    "If you didn't want to buy that shirt, you shouldn't have". -> From this, you know that he has bought the shirt. He bought it in the past.
    "If you didn't study computers in high school, -> from this you know that you have finished high school -> you finished it in the past.

    Did is the simple past of "do/does."
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    In all the videos I've watched it's said that Past Simple refers to the present and we should think about it in general. So we should understand "If you didn't want to..." in general, not like at a specific time in the past but always.
    You mean the present unreal conditional, or the second conditional. But that is not the case with your examples:

    If you didn't study computers in high school, you might find this course difficult.
    If you didn't want to buy that shirt, you shouldn't have.

    "Didn't study" and "didn't want" do refer to the past and imply that it's likely that you didn't study computers/didn't want to buy that shirt.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    An if clause in the simple past talks about a timeless/universal situation only when it's in the subjunctive mood (the subjunctive mood expresses something imagined or wished, not an actual situation). The if clauses in the two sentences in question are not in the subjunctive mood but in the indicative mood, which simply states facts. They just happen to look similar to the subjunctive.
     

    Rival

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    It helps to look at the logic, not just at some formalised rules.

    You didn't want to buy the shirt, in the past -- you did buy the shirt, in the past.
    So, if you didn't want to ... you shouldn't have ... -- both in the past.

    You didn't study computers, in the past -- there could be a problem in the present or in the future.
    So, if you didn't ... you might ... -- one in the past, and one modal.

    The logic is obvious in "If I hadn't drunk so much beer last night, I wouldn't feel so terrible now." :)
     

    serhioses

    Member
    Russian, Russian - Ukrainian
    Thanks all for your explanations. Sorry, I didn't mention in my question about why not to use Past Perfect in if clause? This is the point I try to understand
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Thanks all for your explanations. Sorry, I didn't mention in my question about why not to use Past Perfect in if clause? This is the point I try to understand
    If you just replace the simple past with the past perfect there, it'll not make sense, so you'd have to change the rest of the sentences as well, for example:

    If you hadn't studied computers in high school, you would find this course difficult.
    (mixed)
    If you hadn't wanted to buy that shirt, you wouldn't have. (unreal past)
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    If you didn't study computers in high school, you might find this course difficult.
    If you didn't want to buy that shirt, you shouldn't have.

    I think these are type 1 conditionals, not mixed. The sentences are phrased on the understanding that the speaker does not know whether the condition is fulfilled. I think that in the type 1 conditional any tense is possible for both verbs - provided that there is no possibility of confusion with type 2 and 3 conditionals.

    Of course, the speaker may be disingenuous - the speaker may in fact have a good idea as to whether the condition is fulfilled.
     
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    serhioses

    Member
    Russian, Russian - Ukrainian
    It helps to look at the logic, not just at some formalised rules.

    You didn't want to buy the shirt, in the past -- you did buy the shirt, in the past.
    So, if you didn't want to ... you shouldn't have ... -- both in the past.

    You didn't study computers, in the past -- there could be a problem in the present or in the future.
    So, if you didn't ... you might ... -- one in the past, and one modal.

    The logic is obvious in "If I hadn't drunk so much beer last night, I wouldn't feel so terrible now." :)
    Yes, but you put Past Perfect here "If I hadn't drunk...", but in my examples I don't understand why Past Simple is used. I'd use Past Perfect
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    If you didn't study computers in high school, you might find this course difficult.
    If you didn't want to buy that shirt, you shouldn't have.

    I think these are type 1 conditionals, not mixed. The sentences are phrased on the understanding that the speaker does not know whether the condition is fulfilled. Of course, this may be a rhetorical device - the speaker may in fact have a good idea as to whether the condition is fulfilled.
    The first is definitely mixed since it connects the past and the future, while the second is an although "open" conditional, in the past anyway, so I'm not sure if it qualifies as the 1st type..
     

    Rival

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Yes, but you put Past Perfect here "If I hadn't drunk...", but in my examples I don't understand why Past Simple is used. I'd use Past Perfect
    Of course I used a Past Perfect -- it's an unreal condition, even though my present headache is making me wish it were real.
    In your examples, not wanting to buy the shirt and not studying computers are factual, not unreal.
     

    serhioses

    Member
    Russian, Russian - Ukrainian
    Of course I used a Past Perfect -- it's an unreal condition, even though my present headache is making me wish it were real.
    In your examples, not wanting to buy the shirt and not studying computers are factual, not unreal.
    Can't catch the difference between unreal and factual. We can't change a factual situation, so it's unreal. I mean I bought and I studied, so I can't go back.
     

    serhioses

    Member
    Russian, Russian - Ukrainian
    "If you didn't want to buy that shirt, you shouldn't have". -> From this, you know that he has bought the shirt. He bought it in the past.
    "If you didn't study computers in high school, -> from this you know that you have finished high school -> you finished it in the past.

    Did is the simple past of "do/does."
    Why can't we or why don't we use Past Perfect in if clause? What is the difference?
     

    serhioses

    Member
    Russian, Russian - Ukrainian
    Factual did happen, unreal didn't happen -- they're both in the past, so we can't change either of them.
    So I cannot transform
    "If you didn't ride the bicycle your leg would be fine now"
    to
    "If you hadn't ridden the bicycle your leg would be fine now"
    because you rode the bicycle, it did happen.
    Am I right?
     

    Rival

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    So I cannot transform
    "If you didn't ride the bicycle your leg would be fine now"
    to
    "If you hadn't ridden the bicycle your leg would be fine now"
    because you rode the bicycle, it did happen.
    Am I right?
    Those two sentences mean different things.
    "If you didn't ride the bicycle (ever / at all), your leg would be fine now" -- hypothetical / unreal.
    vs.
    "If you hadn't ridden the bicycle (yesterday), your leg would be fine now" -- factual / real.

    So, yes, you can transform, but you change the meaning by doing so.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The first is definitely mixed since it connects the past and the future,
    There are many different definitions of "mixed conditional". I fear that the one Serhioses is following is unhelpful.

    I feel that these all have the same basic form as conditional sentences.
    - If Fred was arrested last week he must have been in prison yesterday.
    - If Fred was arrested last week he must in prison today.
    - If Fred was arrested last week he will be in prison tomorrow.


    If you didn't ride the bicycle your leg would be fine now.
    Without context, I understand this as an informal variant of If you hadn't ridden the bicycle your leg would have been fine now. So I understand it as a type 3 conditional.
    - In type 3 conditionals we sometimes simplify the past perfect hadn't ridden to didn't ride. The implied tense might be simple present (whereas in fact you are in the habit of riding) or possibly (at least in a very informal style) simple past (whereas in fact you rode). As in this example, this simplification can be confusing, so it is probably best avoided in careful writing.
    - When (as here - now) there is present reference, we can simplify would have been fine to would be fine.
    There might be other ways to understand this sentence in other contexts.
     
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    Piyush toplani

    Senior Member
    Hindi
    It seems to me that the sentence "you didn't study computer in high school, you might find this course difficult" means the student has finished high school therefore if the person who said this sentence to student knows that the action of studying computer is in past that's why " didn't study computer" is used instead of " hadn't studied computer" .
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    I feel that these all have the same basic form as conditional sentences.
    - If Fred was arrested last week he must have been in prison yesterday.
    - If Fred was arrested last week he must in prison today.
    - If Fred was arrested last week he will be in prison tomorrow.


    If you didn't ride the bicycle your leg would be fine now.
    Without context, I understand this as an informal variant of If you hadn't ridden the bicycle your leg would have been fine now. So I understand it as a type 3 conditional.
    I think only the red sentence here is not a "mixed" conditional. If the if-clause and the result-clause denote different time-preiods, we're safe to call it "mixed" regardless of it being a factual and unreal conditional:)
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hi there! Mixed conditionals is a very difficult topic for me, and I've watched a lot of videos about it. But one of them was very special because there were two examples which confused me. "If you didn't study computers in high school, you might find this course difficult" and "If you didn't want to buy that shirt, you shouldn't have". Why do they refer to a specific situation in the past? In all the videos I've watched it's said that Past Simple refers to the present and we should think about it in general. So we should understand "If you didn't want to..." in general, not like at a specific time in the past but always. This is the only one video I've found such examples and I can't realize why they are about the past? Because the teacher said that they refer to the past and if so I don't understand why not to use Past Perfect for the if clause.
    The author is one of my favorite teachers, but in this case I don't understand him.
    Mixed conditionals and conditionals I, II, III is just a way of teaching about conditional sentences. In your own use, you can use this "teaching" method as guide; you'll never go wrong. In actual usage, however, language is not required to follow this teaching method.

    In actual usage (which is another way of saying "in context"), participants know what they are talking about, and so they don't need specific linguistic markers to set up their speech. If "not studying computers in high school" is known as factual (i.e., something that didn't happen in high school), then both "didn't study" and "hadn't study" are pragmatically equivalent; either one can be used; after all, both "didn't" and "hadn't" are past forms. Beyond that, "might" is a modal verb, and modal verbs don't show "tense." What this means is that the meaning of "you might find this course difficult" is contextual; it can refer to the past or present, depending on overall meaning. Context always matters.

    What you've learned about conditionals is not a "rule," but it's useful to a learner. Instead of focusing on all the possible verb combinations that can appear in conditional sentences, the focus is placed on a few, and that makes the teaching and the learning of conditionals much easier. As I said, you can follow the traditional teaching method; just don't be surprised if you come across examples that don't neatly fall into the "conditional categories" that you've learned.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "If you didn't want to buy that shirt, you shouldn't have" is not a conditional sentence at all. There's no sense in which the main clause is conditional upon the apparent condition's being met.

    It means "Given that you didn't want to buy that shirt, you shouldn't have (bought it)".

    Many simple statements masquerade as conditional sentences.
     
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    serhioses

    Member
    Russian, Russian - Ukrainian
    Those two sentences mean different things.
    "If you didn't ride the bicycle (ever / at all), your leg would be fine now" -- hypothetical / unreal.
    vs.
    "If you hadn't ridden the bicycle (yesterday), your leg would be fine now" -- factual / real.

    So, yes, you can transform, but you change the meaning by doing so.
    But you said "In your examples, not wanting to buy the shirt and not studying computers are factual, not unreal."
    And then you write "If you didn't ride the bicycle (ever / at all), your leg would be fine now" -- hypothetical / unreal.
    Why "didn't study" is factual but "didn't ride" is unreal?
    And before you wrote that "hadn't drunk" is unreal but about "hadn't ridden" you wrote that it's factual.
    Maybe I ask stupid questions, sorry, but I really can't catch the idea.
     

    serhioses

    Member
    Russian, Russian - Ukrainian
    Mixed conditionals and conditionals I, II, III is just a way of teaching about conditional sentences. In your own use, you can use this "teaching" method as guide; you'll never go wrong. In actual usage, however, language is not required to follow this teaching method.

    In actual usage (which is another way of saying "in context"), participants know what they are talking about, and so they don't need specific linguistic markers to set up their speech. If "not studying computers in high school" is known as factual (i.e., something that didn't happen in high school), then both "didn't study" and "hadn't study" are pragmatically equivalent; either one can be used; after all, both "didn't" and "hadn't" are past forms. Beyond that, "might" is a modal verb, and modal verbs don't show "tense." What this means is that the meaning of "you might find this course difficult" is contextual; it can refer to the past or present, depending on overall meaning. Context always matters.

    What you've learned about conditionals is not a "rule," but it's useful to a learner. Instead of focusing on all the possible verb combinations that can appear in conditional sentences, the focus is placed on a few, and that makes the teaching and the learning of conditionals much easier. As I said, you can follow the traditional teaching method; just don't be surprised if you come across examples that don't neatly fall into the "conditional categories" that you've learned.
    Thanks, this makes sense for me. I know that just following rules doesn't always work, I'm just trying to understand how native speakers look at this.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thanks, this makes sense for me. I know that just following rules doesn't always work, I'm just trying to understand how native speakers look at this.
    "If you didn't study computers in high school, you might find this course difficult" is a different case, complicated very slightly, perhaps, by our not being certain of the tense of 'must'.

    This is not a mixed conditional; it's a past open conditional - past because the if-clause refers to the past, open because it leave open whether or not the condition is met.

    In past open conditionals you have a choice of tense in the main clause:

    "If you didn't study computers in high school, you will find this course difficult"
    "If you didn't study computers in high school, you will have found this course difficult"
    "If you didn't study computers in high school, you will be finding this course difficult"

    All these, and many more, are possible and idiomatic.

    What the sentence suggests is that the teacher has potentially in the class some pupils who have, and some who have not, studied computers in high school. This is a warning to those who haven't that they may very possibly find the course difficult. This might helpfully influence their decision whether to take this course or some other one.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It seems to me that the sentence "you didn't study computer in high school, you might find this course difficult" means the student has finished high school therefore if the person who said this sentence to student knows that the action of studying computer is in past that's why " didn't study computer" is used instead of " hadn't studied computer"
    This is one possible meaning; and yes, it might be the most likely. But in context, other meanings of “if” are possible:
    - the speaker may not know if the interlocutor finished high school so this may be the “basic” meaning of “if”;
    - “you” might refer to people in general rather than the specific interlocutor, so the apodosis may be about everybody who has not finished high school;
    and so on.
     
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    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    How about the following? Here I don't mean to express counterfactuality. Mary may or may not have known John's number last Tuesday.

    If Mary knew John’s number last Tuesday, she would have given him a call.

    I'd appreciate your help.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    How about the following? Here I don't mean to express counterfactuality. Mary may or may not have known John's number last Tuesday.

    If Mary knew John’s number last Tuesday, she would have given him a call.

    I'd appreciate your help.
    "Knew" is fine; this is a real situation in the past, where either you don't know or you pretend not to know whether Mary knew John's number.

    However, the usual main clause to go with a real past if-clause is "will have given", not "would have given". Using "would" here usually indicates that you know Mary did not give John a call (and therefore, she could not have known his number). If you don't know whether or not Mary gave John a call, use "will".
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    What about the following?

    If John arrived on Monday, he would/will be at home now.

    Here, the speaker does not know whether John arrived on Monday or not, or whether he is at home or not.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    What about the following?

    If John arrived on Monday, he would/will be at home now.

    Here, the speaker does not know whether John arrived on Monday or not, or whether he is at home or not.
    Use "will".

    There is quite a lot of flexibility in real conditionals (sentences that aren't type 2 or 3 conditionals); they mostly aren't categorised into nice simple terms like "type 2", and they can be very confusing, even to native speakers. However, as a very general guide
    • in the if-clause, use whichever verb tense you would use in an ordinary sentence
    • in the main clause, use "will" + bare infinitive for something in the present/future or "will" + perfect infinitive for something in the past. You can use other modal verbs instead of "will", but be a little wary of using "would", unless you want to say that you know the main clause is false.
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Use "will".

    There is quite a lot of flexibility in real conditionals (sentences that aren't type 2 or 3 conditionals); they mostly aren't categorised into nice simple terms like "type 2", and they can be very confusing, even to native speakers. However, as a very general guide
    • in the if-clause, use whichever verb tense you would use in an ordinary sentence
    • in the main clause, use "will" + bare infinitive for something in the present/future or "will" + perfect infinitive for something in the past. You can use other modal verbs instead of "will", but be a little wary of using "would", unless you want to say that you know the main clause is false.
    I see the following, where "would" rather than "will" is used when a present-tense form is present in the if-clause:

    Humans have always hoped for infinity, since it would be an awfully lonely universe if we’re the only planet with its porch light on.

    NASA May Have Found the Goldilocks Planet of Goldilocks Planets: TOI 700 d

    If this is correct, do you know how it's different from the earlier examples we've discussed?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    This isn't a real conditional in the ordinary sense, because it is timeless. It is closer to in form to a type 0 conditional, which ordinarily would use the simple present tense ("It is an awful lonely universe"). However, the sentence is about hopes rather than facts, "would" is used, just as it would be in any other sentence about hopes:
    You came home!​
    I hoped you would come home.​
     

    raymondaliasapollyon

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Any hope involved in the following?


    'I believe,' he said, 'that every man is entitled to a fair trial. If he is convicted, he would be taken to a lawful place of execution where he’d be put down in the most humane method known to science, either by hanging or by lethal injection.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Any hope involved in the following?
    No. Here the reason for "would" is because it is the person's belief.
    From what I understand, this use of "would" is the subjunctive "will", so you would do well to look up use of the subjunctive mood, where you will find it is used for unreal situations, hypothetical situations, beliefs, hopes, doubts, possibilities and, to some extent, feelings.

    It is only hypothetical and unreal situations that cause backshifting of the if-clause in conditional sentences, not any other use of the subjunctive. I suspect that the reason the present subjunctive is not used in the if-clause in either of your last two examples is that the present subjunctive of "be" is very unusual in modern English, although the present subjunctive is used for other verbs, particularly in AmE. Alternatively, it might be argued that the subjunctive element (the hope or the belief) only applies to the main clause. Whatever the reason, both of your recent examples are perfectly ordinary and correct English.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Unfortunately, this thread has drifted a long way outside our forum's requirement of a specific question which focuses clearly on a single sentence example, and I'm therefore now closing it. Anyone who'd like to ask separately about one of the examples discussed is welcome to start a new thread with a clear specific question.

    Thanks to those who have participated. DonnyB - moderator.
     
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