Conditional (mixed)? He would be given the death penalty if he <is, was> found guilty.

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mohit7269

Senior Member
India - Hindi & English
Is the following correct mixed conditional or is it better to keep the entire sentence in past tense only?

He would be given the death penalty if he is found guilty.

He would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty.

Thanks,
Mohit
 
  • Murphy

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Hello Mohit,
    In my opinion the only correct form for this particular sentence is the past form.

    He would be given the death penalty if he were found guilty.

    "....if he was found guilty" is ok in informal language, but the more correct form is "if he were found guilty" (past subjunctive).

    However, you could avoid the problem altogether by not repeating the subject (since it's the same in both clauses):

    He would be given the death penalty if found guilty.
     

    mohit7269

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi & English
    Hello Mohit,
    In my opinion the only correct form for this particular sentence is the past form.

    He would be given the death penalty if he were found guilty.

    "....if he was found guilty" is ok in informal language, but the more correct form is "if he were found guilty" (past subjunctive).

    However, you could avoid the problem altogether by not repeating the subject (since it's the same in both clauses):

    He would be given the death penalty if found guilty.
    Thanks for your reply. I think I am getting confused with mixed conditionals. Will it be a correct use of mixed conditional to indicate a future possibility if we say:

    If he is found guilty, he would be given the death penalty.

    Thanks
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    All these sentences are of correct form, but they are very different in meaning and cannot substitute for one another.

    The "if he were" version is the most common, and the "if he is" version is by far the least common. What do you expect "would" to mean in the "if he is" version, Mohit?
     

    mohit7269

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi & English
    All these sentences are of correct form, but they are very different in meaning and cannot substitute for one another.

    The "if he were" version is the most common, and the "if he is" version is by far the least common. What do you expect "would" to mean in the "if he is" version, Mohit?
    In "if he is" version, I think "would" will mean that there is a probability of getting hanged if he is found guilty. Is it correct to assume that?
     

    Murphy

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Mohit,
    Your sentence is talking about the future and we don't usually mix conditional sentences which refer to the future. So you can either write:
    He will be given the death penalty if he is found guilty.
    or
    He would be given the death penalty if he were found guilty.

    Both of these sentences refer to the certain outcome (death penalty) of something happening in the future (a guilty verdict), but the form of second sentence implies that the chances of the man being found guilty are less probable than in the first.

    It's much more common to mix second and third conditional sentences.
    Eg
    I wouldn't live in Italy now if I hadn't studied Italian at school.
    I wouldn't have gone to visit him if I didn't like him.

    Both these sentences combine past actions with present states.

    I hope this helps.:)
     

    bouncy.bouncy

    Senior Member
    American/British English
    Use will/is or is/will or would/were or were/would. "Mixing tenses" for conditional phrases is fine in some situations, but for these it isn't. I find that people occasionally/often do this, but it's noticeable (/annoying to the grammarians).
     

    Starfrown

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I don't see would as expressing present or future probability. (Can it?)

    You could use might for possibility or will (likely) for probability.
    That wasn't what Murphy was saying. He notes that both "would" and "will" refer to certain outcomes if the condition is fulfilled. He was merely saying that "would" + subjunctive expresses more doubt about a condition's being fulfilled than "will" + indicative.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I hate to complicate matters, but I actually think 'if he were found guilty, he would be given the death penalty' is incorrect, as long as there is a possibility of his being found guilty.

    I find I use the subjunctive only for non-factual, or impossible conditions (e.g. If I were a bird, I would fly to Africa).

    So, for me, 'He would be given the death penalty, if he was found guilty', far from being wrong, or informal, is correct, and using were for was would be incorrect, unless his being found guilty is out of the question.

    I think you can also say, with a slight change of meaning 'He will be given the death penalty, if he is found guilty'. (In this case his being found guilty is more probable than in the previous example).

    I don't think mine is a very heterodox view in BE.
     

    Paul E

    Senior Member
    English England
    Here's a mixed conditional first and second just as a note:

    I'd be happy to help if you need me to.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    That wasn't what Murphy was saying. He notes that both "would" and "will" refer to certain outcomes if the condition is fulfilled. He was merely saying that "would" + subjunctive expresses more doubt about a condition's being fulfilled than "will" + indicative.
    I did not mean to be replying to Murphy. My post was meant as a reply to Mohit about would indicating probability. I think the "if he is" sentence is possible, but not with the meaning Mohit has in mind.

    I hate to complicate matters, but I actually think 'if he were found guilty, he would be given the death penalty' is incorrect, as long as there is a possibility of his being found guilty.
    To me, the "if he were" version is equivalent to "Should he be found guilty, he would be given the death penalty." It indicates doubt or hesitation about his being found guilty but does not say it is impossible.

    Here's a mixed conditional first and second just as a note:

    I'd be happy to help if you need me to.
    Excellent example!

    Let's see: "The executioner would be happy to put him to death if he is found guilty." Leave out "be happy to" and it seems strange, but not incorrect. The same goes for the first sample sentence.

    To me, that first sample sentence would sound more natural with a qualifier, like likely after would. In other words, would does not indicate probability but it can indicate that there is a (further) qualification. That's a conditional use of would, but "if he is found guilty" does not seem to provide enough condition/qualification by itself. In context, the additional condition may be supplied in a nearby sentence.
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thomas Tompion said:
    I hate to complicate matters, but I actually think 'if he were found guilty, he would be given the death penalty' is incorrect, as long as there is a possibility of his being found guilty.
    Forero said:
    To me, the "if he were" version is equivalent to "Should he be found guilty, he would be given the death penalty." It indicates doubt or hesitation about his being found guilty but does not say it is impossible.
    I was taught that If I were, if I lived, etc... is a conditional of dreams, of something which is not possible now, but might become possible at some future date or in some future existence.

    'Should he be found guilty' is, in my view, the equivalent of 'if he is found guilty', a conditional of things which are possible now and possible also in the future. I agree with Forero that it suggests that he may well be found guilty.

    So, for me, we, speaking now and suggesting that it is now possible that he be found guilty in the future, should not say 'if he were found guilty, he would be given the death penalty' because that suggests that his being found guilty is out of the question.

    Is this an AE/BE distinction? I know a lot of BE speakers are very loose in their use of tenses in if-clauses.
     

    masatom

    Banned
    Japanese
    Hello.
    I like Thomas Tompion's explanation best. I learned at school just like he said.
    If ---were---, ---would--- is subjuncitve past, with which the real possiblilty is zero or nearly zero.
    And if the possibility is not zero, like fifty-fifty I was taught to use (simple)conditional mood.
    I don't know the exact grammatical name of (simple)conditional, I was taught to distingusih the two moods.
    It depends on the interpretation of the context, I think Thomas Tompion's way of thinking is quite natural and I agree with him although I'm not native.
    We were basically taught AE at school but sometimes BE, I think.

    Thank you.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Is the following correct mixed conditional or is it better to keep the entire sentence in past tense only?

    He would be given the death penalty if he is found guilty.

    He would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty.

    Thanks,
    Mohit
    Eeek! and Aargh! and stuff!

    I have never been able to follow TT down his distinction between "if I was" and "if I were".

    "If I was" to me is 100% right when it's equivalent to "when I was": "if I was naughty, my parents punished me."

    "If I was" is also a colloquial alternative to "if I were" in unreal conditions: "If I was a millionaire, I would buy a yacht" vs "If I were a millionaire, I would buy a yacht".

    To me, the "correct" versions of the OP's sentences are:

    He would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty (colloquial)
    He would be given the death penalty if he were found guilty (formal)
    He will be given the death penalty if he is found guilty.
     
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    FromPA

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I didn't think you could use subjunctive to express a future possibility, but then I thought about the following sentences:
    If I pay you $5, will you wash my car?
    If I paid you $5, would you wash my car?
    If I were to pay you $5, would you wash my car?

    All of these sentences sound very natural to me and mean approximately the same thing, and yet the 2nd and 3rd appear to be a form of the subjunctive despite the fact that they are referring to a potential future event. If I then apply the same structure to the sentence in question, I get:

    If he is found guilty, he will be hanged.
    If found guilty, he would be hanged.
    If he were to be found guilty, he would be hanged.

    I think all 3 are possible. The only possibility that makes my ears bleed is "If he was found guilty he would be hanged," which makes absolutely no sense. If you're talking about a past event, then there should be no "if" about the outcome. If you want to express a situation contrary to what actually happened in the past, you would say, "If he had been found guilty..."
     
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    Starfrown

    Senior Member
    English - US
    To me, the "correct" versions of the OP's sentences are:

    He would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty (colloquial)
    He would be given the death penalty if he were found guilty (formal)
    I agree with Loob completely. Clearly, mohit was going for a future unreal conditional. In that case, if he wishes to include the "to be" verb, I think he must choose one of Loob's first two sentences. The example with "was," at least in AE, would be considered colloquial. Of course, I think the best option is to remove the form of "to be" entirely, leaving:

    He would be given the death penalty if found guilty.

    Two more options are:

    He would be given the death penalty if he were to be found guilty.
    He would be given the death penalty if he should be found guilty.

    These suggest even more uncertainty or remoteness.
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    It is quite possible to know what might be implied by something having happened without knowing whether it has or hasn't actually happened:

    The trial must be over by now, and he may have been exonerated. But if he was found guilty, then either he has been hanged already or he will be fairly soon.

    If he was executed, he must have been found guilty.


    The only thing that is not possible (except in science fiction or T.S. Eliot) is for an effect to precede its cause. These combinations all seem right to me:

    He is tried for such crimes, and found not guilty, on a regular basis, but if he were found guilty, he would be hanged.

    If he were to be found guilty, he would be hanged.

    I expect him to be exonerated, but if perchance he should be found guilty, he would be hanged.

    He would be hanged if he is found guilty, but the governor could always intervene on his behalf.

     

    FromPA

    Senior Member
    USA English
    "If I was" is also a colloquial alternative to "if I were" in unreal conditions: "If I was a millionaire, I would buy a yacht" vs "If I were a millionaire, I would buy a yacht".

    To me, the "correct" versions of the OP's sentences are:

    He would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty (colloquial)
    He would be given the death penalty if he were found guilty (formal)
    He will be given the death penalty if he is found guilty.
    If by "colloquial" you mean commonly heard, but grammatically incorrect, then I agree.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    If by "colloquial" you mean commonly heard, but grammatically incorrect, then I agree.
    This is one of the infamous AE/BE differences. "If he was" with practically the same meaning as "if he were" is common in standard educated BE, but to some it may be considered colloquial. For AE, "if he was" in place of "if he were" is generally considered nonstandard, or a mistake.

    I agree with TT that "if I were" can be used for impossible situations like "if I were not here right now, ...", but I still might use "if he were found guilty" for a possible, but dubious, future. I believe he is saying that he would use "if he were" only with the knowledge that "he isn't" and "if he was" for my "if he were".

    Would is a notoriously ambiguous word, but is most commonly accompanied by an "if he were" (or TT's "if he was") type of condition. But in Paul E.'s sentence, even if we spell out "I would", it can work with an "if you need" type of condition.

    In fact "I would be happy to help" and "I would like to go" can be considered complete sentences with no explicit condition. The meaning of would in such sentences is still "conditional" though.

    In the last sentence in my last post, I think the mention of possible intervention by the governor is enough to support the "conditional" would, and such a condition does not have to appear in the same sentence with the would. That's one way I can interpret Mohit's first sample sentence and not consider it invalid.

    But "conditional" has little if anything to do with probability.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I know that Loob thinks me heretical on this, and I just want

    1. To explain the nature of the heresy.
    2. To justify it a little from at least one source, lest anyone think I'm out on a limb.

    Loob said:
    To me, the "correct" versions of the OP's sentences are:

    He would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty (colloquial)
    He would be given the death penalty if he were found guilty (formal)
    He will be given the death penalty if he is found guilty.
    Here is the so-called heretical view:

    1. He would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty:tick:Fine, and suggests he might be found guilty.
    2. He would be given the death penalty if he were found guilty. :cross: Wrong. A common colloquial (i.e. incorrect) form of 3, unless his being found guilty is out of the question, in which case :tick:fine.
    3. He will be given the death penalty if he is found guilty. :tick: Fine.

    Could I find anyone to support my view? Oddly enough, in the first place where I looked:

    The relevant bit is the section in the middle, where it says:

    When the situation described by the if clause is not presupposed to be false, however, that clause must contain an indicative verb. The form of verb in the main clause will depend on your intended meaning: If Hamlet was really written by Marlowe, as many have argued, then we have underestimated Marlowe’s genius.

    It goes on to give more helpful examples.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    No, I don't think you heretical, TT:D

    It's just that (to be honest!) I've never quite understood your distinction :)o) and now that I do - your post above is very clear! - I think I draw the line in a different place between "real" and "unreal" conditionals.....

    I would use the past subjunctive (formally) and the past indicative (informally) in "unreal" conditionals: conditionals where the event/state envisaged is presumed to be false. For me this would include the guilty verdict in the topic sentence. If I thought there was a real possibility of someone's being found guilty, I would say "he will be given the death penalty if he is found guilty". My choice of a past tense was/were and a conditional would in "he would be given the death penalty if he was/were found guilty" implies that I think it, not perhaps impossible, but at least unlikely, that he will be found guilty.

    I was a bit restrictive in my earlier post in saying that the indicative is the {only} right answer when "if" = "when". As others have highlighted in subsequent posts, the indicative is the {only} right answer when "if" = "assuming that" or "given that", too.

    Thanks, Forero, for pointing out that educated speakers of standard BrE can say "if I was" as well as "if I were":D
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    To me, the sentence about Marlowe is an example of past tense indicative referring to past time, not present or future. The only sentence in TT's "source" that may illustrate his usage is:

    If I was to accept their offer—which I’m still considering—I would have to start the new job on May 2.

    This too could be interpreted as past tense for past time with would as past tense of will. Precede it with "I said that", and it means the same as:

    I said, "If I am to accept their offer, I will have to start the new job on May 2."

    - but with an added aside concerning the present.
    I was a bit restrictive in my earlier post in saying that the indicative is the {only} right answer when "if" = "when". As others have highlighted in subsequent posts, the indicative is the {only} right answer when "if" = "assuming that" or "given that", too.
    "When" can also mean "assuming that" or "given that". "If" introduces circumstances or conditions, which might be called "times". In fact, I think we use past subjunctive for doubtful/dubious/impossible conditions because we do not, or don't want to, consider them present (here with us).
    Thanks, Forero, for pointing out that educated speakers of standard BrE can say "if I was" as well as "if I were":D
    You are quite welcome, Loob. :)
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm still trying to understand this part of Forero's last post.
    Forero said:
    If I was to accept their offer—which I’m still considering—I would have to start the new job on May 2.

    This too could be interpreted as past tense for past time with would as past tense of will. Precede it with "I said that", and it means the same as:

    I said, "If I am to accept their offer, I will have to start the new job on May 2."

    - but with an added aside concerning the present.
    We are told that he's still considering the offer, so any possible acceptance must, in my view, be in the future; the conditional clause 'if I was to accept their offer' must be talking about a possible future acceptance.

    I went off to Fowler (1908) to see what he had to say about all this. He seemed to think that the subjunctive in if-clauses was a dying form - he said that an experienced word-actuary put their expectation of life at one generation.

    Here I am a century later defending the use of the indicative.

    I also went off to great writers of the past, to see how they handled such constructions. I've tried hard to bear in mind that in direct speech deliberate error may be intended.

    Yet it was evident that if I was to flourish matches with my hands I should have to abandon my firewood - H.G.Wells, The Time Machine, Chapter 9. - This seems to me entirely correct, though it is the form condemned as colloquial by some others. He is talking about his future policy, and there's a lively possibility of his using matches.
    If I was her, I would not have put up with it. - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 40.- This is a case where we are all recommending 'were' for 'was'. Mrs Bennett is speaking, and this may therefore be a deliberate mistake on the author's part. I include it because the example is interesting.
    If he was a nice boy and improved on acquaintance he could be given more theatre tickets, and perhaps asked to come one Sunday to tea at Chelsea. - H.H.Monro, The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat. - Here we are being admitted into the mind-world of a child, who is considering a policy for obtaining favours in the future.

    Mr. Weston would undoubtedly support me, if he were here - Jane Austen, Emma, Chapter 5. - I include this for contrast with the example from Pride and Prejudice above, to support my view that JA is deliberately making Mrs Bennett make a mistake. This is the use I think we agree is correct these days for a non-factual (what I call a dream-world) condition.

    My little exploration of great writers' handling of this construction made me understand that prediction mentioned by Fowler rather better.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I'm still trying to understand this part of Forero's last post.
    We are told that he's still considering the offer, so any possible acceptance must, in my view, be in the future; the conditional clause 'if I was to accept their offer' must be talking about a possible future acceptance.
    Same sentence, different inserted comment:

    If I was to accept their offer—which, as you know, I did—I would have to start the new job on May 2.

    My interpretation of this is that, except for the inserted comment, we are looking back at what I was thinking and experiencing when the offer and first day of work were in the future. The aside in present tense ("you know" in this version, "I'm considering" in the original) brings us up to date and includes information about whether the future that was is now past or is still to come.

    The H.G. Wells and H.H. Munro quotes take similar looks into what was in people's minds at some past time, including considerations for what was then "the future". If we were reporting the same things in the present, we could say:

    If I am to accept their offer, I will have to start the new job on May 2.

    Yet it is evident that if I am to flourish matches with my hands, I shall have to abandon my firewood.

    If he is a nice boy and improves on acquaintance, he can be given more theatre tickets and perhaps (be) asked to come one Sunday to tea at Chelsea.

    In the original quotes, we are looking back at a time when we could have used these present tense versions, but now we recount it all in past tense to allow for an interim in which part of what was the future may now have become past.

    I hope I am making sense (and that the Morlocks shall not have taken possession of me). :)
     
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    djamal 2008

    Senior Member
    arabic
    This is one of the infamous AE/BE differences. "If he was" with practically the same meaning as "if he were" is common in standard educated BE, but to some it may be considered colloquial. For AE, "if he was" in place of "if he were" is generally considered nonstandard, or a mistake.

    I agree with TT that "if I were" can be used for impossible situations like "if I were not here right now, ...", but I still might use "if he were found guilty" for a possible, but dubious, future. I believe he is saying that he would use "if he were" only with the knowledge that "he isn't" and "if he was" for my "if he were".

    Would is a notoriously ambiguous word, but is most commonly accompanied by an "if he were" (or TT's "if he was") type of condition. But in Paul E.'s sentence, even if we spell out "I would", it can work with an "if you need" type of condition.

    In fact "I would be happy to help" and "I would like to go" can be considered complete sentences with no explicit condition. The meaning of would in such sentences is still "conditional" though.

    In the last sentence in my last post, I think the mention of possible intervention by the governor is enough to support the "conditional" would, and such a condition does not have to appear in the same sentence with the would. That's one way I can interpret Mohit's first sample sentence and not consider it invalid.

    But "conditional" has little if anything to do with probability.

    If found guilty, he will be hanged or better he shall be hanged in legal jargon.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Same sentence, different inserted comment:

    If I was to accept their offer—which, as you know, I did—I would have to start the new job on May 2.

    My interpretation of this is that, except for the inserted comment - I think I didn't explain myself clearly: I didn't mean 'must in all circumstances' but 'must in these circumstances' because the previous inserted comment (before Forero changed it) made it explicit that he was considering the offer, and so that 'if I was' is, here, referring to the future -, we are looking back at what I was thinking and experiencing when the offer and first day of work were in the future. The aside in present tense ("you know" in this version, "I'm considering" in the original) brings us up to date and includes information about whether the future that was is now past or is still to come.

    The H.G. Wells and H.H. Monro quotes take similar looks into what was in people's minds at some past time - I accept this of the Wells, but not of the Saki, which is concerned with a girl's imagined future behaviour, if he turned out to be a nice boy he could be taken a little more seriously. I've linked the whole story to the paragraph opening - Jocantha ordered some tea and a muffin, including considerations for what was then "the future". If we were reporting the same things in the present, we could say:

    If I am to accept their offer, I will have to start the new job on May 2.

    Yet it is evident that if I am to flourish matches with my hands, I shall have to abandon my firewood.

    If he is a nice boy and improves on acquaintance, he can be given more theatre tickets and perhaps (be) asked to come one Sunday to tea at Chelsea.

    In the original quotes, we are looking back at a time when we could have used these present tense versions, but now we recount it all in past tense to allow for an interim in which part of what was the future may now have become past. I just don't think this is true of the Saki, who is a great stylist, one of the most wonderful writers technically of the 20th century.

    I hope I am making sense (and that the Morlocks shall not have taken possession of me). :)
    I'm sorry to put my comments into the middle of your post, Forero. That way I could be clear about which of your sentences I was talking about.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    To me, the context of both quotes ("it was evident" in the Wells, "Jocantha ordered" in the Saki) sets them both squarely in the past, some time before the author's present time, so I see "the future" in both cases as what, at the time that "it was evident" and "Jocantha ordered", was yet to come.

    If these sentences had concerned "the future" that lay ahead of the authors and the authors had felt doubtful or uncomfortable about such hypotheses, I expect they would have written "if I/he were" or "were I/he" - the same form as if they had believed it impossible. If, on the other hand, the sentences had concerned this "present" future but the authors had not wished to express such feelings, I would have expected present tense forms rather than past.

    In my way of thinking, we can look at the future, the future from where we sit, in different ways. Objectively, we can say:

    He will be given the death penalty if he is found guilty.

    If I think his being found guilty is unlikely, I can say:

    Should he be found guilty, he will be given the death penalty.

    A little stronger feeling (e.g. "perish the thought") and I say:

    Were he to be found guilty, he would be given the death penalty.

    This is subjunctive, and I would only say "should he", "were he", or "if he were" referring to a possible future, not "if he was", which I reserve for past tense:

    The future was not for us to know. All that was certain was that he would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty.

    I do think Jane Austen is imitating colloquial speech in "if I was her".
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think we will have to disagree about Jane Austen.

    I wonder what you will think of this extract from Chapter 5 of A Little City of Hope by Francis Marion Crawford: "He would tell me not to worry! They always say that! A doctor would tell a man 'not to worry' if he was to be hanged the next morning!"

    I hope we agree that the doctor wouldn't be able to tell the person 'not to worry' if the hanging had already taken place. The hanging is in the future.

    "In my opinion, if he was to be given control over the world today, he would solve our problems and secure the peace and happiness which the world is longing for.” George Bernard Shaw on the prophet Mahomet, a case where even I would opt for were.

    "Then if I was to ask you for a small loan - " began the greybeard fawningly, H.H.Monro, The Romancers.

    Of course examples almost have to be from direct speech, because few novels are written in the historic present.
     

    Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    Hi Ferero.
    I would argue that your comment about "if I was" and "if I were" meant the same in BE is incorrect.
    This is just not the case.
    We were taught that they have different meanings in different situations.
    We were also taught that the subjunctive was to indicate something that could not possibly be realised.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Redshade, I agree with the distinctions Forero makes, and as you can see I am a BrE speaker. Perhaps you could explain a bit more about what you were taught?
     

    Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    Hello Loob.

    I can't see any difficulty in interpreting these four sentences.

    Which are you claiming to be incorrect?

    Regards.

    Redshade
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hello Loob.

    I can't see any difficulty in interpreting these four sentences.

    Which are you claiming to be incorrect?

    Regards.

    Redshade
    Hello Redshade,

    As you can see from our post totals, Loob and Forero and I have been arguing about these things for ages. It's wonderful for us to have someone new come and give fresh insights. You say that you've been taught about the different meaning which 'was' and 'were' give to conditional sentences. I think we simply want you to say a little more to explain and justify, and present a case, or even just to analyse one of the examples and say how you see it, so we know where we agree and where we don't.
    When I first came I found it hard to believe that there was a place on the wild web where such things could be discussed in a friendly and constructive way, but I promise you this is one.
     

    Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    Hello Redshade,

    As you can see from our post totals, Loob and Forero and I have been arguing about these things for ages. It's wonderful for us to have someone new come and give fresh insights. You say that you've been taught about the different meaning which 'was' and 'were' give to conditional sentences. I think we simply want you to say a little more to explain and justify, and present a case, or even just to analyse one of the examples and say how you see it, so we know where we agree and where we don't.
    When I first came I found it hard to believe that there was a place on the wild web where such things could be discussed in a friendly and constructive way, but I promise you this is one.
    .

    Thomas Tampion.Thank you for your kindness.

    I am but a layman who left school at 17, conscious of the fact that I am probably conversing with linguistic professionals :)

    I disagree (as would my Cambridge graduate English master) with Loob's pronouncement that
    "was" and "were" are interchangeable (in BE),the former being used colloquially and the latter in more formal circumctances.

    "Were" when used as a subjunctive is always hypothetical.
    "was" is used when there is a certainty.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    "Were" when used as a subjunctive is always hypothetical.
    "was" is used when there is a certainty.
    I agree with both of those points, Redshade.

    It's just that I say that "was" is also used for hypotheses - and I don't distinguish between types of hypotheses in the way that TT does.

    Oh, and here you're talking with a wide variety of people. The one thing we share is a love of language (and WRF!)

    Welcome to the forums, by the way:)
     

    Redshade

    Banned
    UK
    English.
    I agree with both of those points, Redshade.

    It's just that I say that "was" is also used for hypotheses - and I don't distinguish between types of hypotheses in the way that TT does.

    Oh, and here you're talking with a wide variety of people. The one thing we share is a love of language (and WRF!)

    Welcome to the forums, by the way:)
    Thank you Loob.

    I am glad that I did not say,as was my original intention, that the sentences were poorly constructed in the original quotes and that a lot of argument could have been saved by rephrasing them.Doh!
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I think we will have to disagree about Jane Austen.
    I think we agree that, with "if I was her", JA was "deliberately making Mrs Bennett make a mistake." I would have opted for were in that context, but I am not Mrs. Bennett. To Mrs. Bennett, I suspect it was not a mistake, and I think that's what JA meant. Would Jane Austen have said "if I was her" in such a conversation? I don't know.
    I wonder what you will think of this extract from Chapter 5 of A Little City of Hope by Francis Marion Crawford: "He would tell me not to worry! They always say that! A doctor would tell a man 'not to worry' if he was to be hanged the next morning!"

    I hope we agree that the doctor wouldn't be able to tell the person 'not to worry' if the hanging had already taken place. The hanging is in the future.
    What future?
    "In my opinion, if he was to be given control over the world today, he would solve our problems and secure the peace and happiness which the world is longing for.” George Bernard Shaw on the prophet Mahomet, a case where even I would opt for were.
    I think I would opt for were here too, but I am starting to see Shaw and Mrs. Bennett in a new light.
    "Then if I was to ask you for a small loan - " began the greybeard fawningly, H.H.Monro, The Romancers.
    Obviously conversational, but ...
    Of course examples almost have to be from direct speech, because few novels are written in the historic present.
    Maybe so, if examples have to come from novels.

    I have to say these are excellent examples of situations where was turns up quite naturally and were perhaps does not really fit, in spite of the "rules".

    In this last quote (from Saki), the conversation has been about life in a far-away place in the past, with an attempt to generalize for all time. The context is at the same time past and present, real and imaginary, categorical and conditional. At this point, the greybeard has an interest in being indirect about tenses. I think he chooses was, pretending, in a way, to be speaking of the past, so as to have minimal impact on the answer.

    In the quote from "A Little City of Hope", I can imagine the same thing being said with various tenses, with the same actual meaning:

    A doctor would tell a man 'not to worry' if he were to be hanged the next morning!
    A doctor will tell a man 'not to worry' if he is to be hanged the next morning!
    A doctor would tell a man 'not to worry' if he is to be hanged the next morning!
    A doctor would tell a man 'not to worry' if he was to be hanged the next morning!

    These might be ambiguous were it not for the context.

    I
    n this sentence about "a doctor", what the doctor will say depends only on the fact that he is a doctor. It does not matter whether "a man" is, was, or might possibly be scheduled for a hanging tomorrow, the doctor will/would no doubt tell the man "not to worry."

    The two sentences that started this post have ambiguities and no context, but
    seem to be saying that being found guilty leads to being "given the death penalty", a very different idea from a doctor just being "a doctor".


     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hello Forero,

    I feared you had lost interest in our discussion, so I was very pleased to see your post. I'll try to deal with your points in order, except that, for a while now, I have repeatedly forgotten to comment on your earlier statement that

    Forero said:
    The only thing that is not possible (except in science fiction or T.S. Eliot) is for an effect to precede its cause.
    I agree that this seems counter-intuitive, but Ayer argues in Language, Truth, and Logic (p. 138 of the first edition) that it is entirely possible, not just in the wild circumstances where you admit it might happen.

    Back to the point at issue. The disagreement between us about the Jane Austen quote from Mrs Bennett's conversation stands. I don't think the tiresome lady is being made to speak ungrammatically. Her language is tedious but grammatical, in the main.

    I wrote:
    TT said:
    I hope we agree that the doctor wouldn't be able to tell the person 'not to worry' if the hanging had already taken place. The hanging is in the future.
    You asked: 'What future?'. I didn't, perhaps, make clear that the people are discussing on what occasions a doctor uses those words. Previously you had, as I understood, objected that because the examples I chose were either in a past narrative context, or rather loose conversation, they were not unequivocably about the future; you may even have given me the impression that they were unequivocably about the past. It seemed to me that when someone says 'A doctor would tell a man 'not to worry' if he was to be hanged the next morning!' he is speaking about a hypothetical future. The man has not been hanged who is there to be told not to worry.

    Of my Saki example, you say:
    Forero said:
    The context is at the same time past and present, real and imaginary, categorical and conditional. At this point, the greybeard has an interest in being indirect about tenses. I think he chooses was, pretending, in a way, to be speaking of the past, so as to have minimal impact on the answer.
    The context is a tramp asking someone for money. He says 'If I was to ask you for a small loan' rather than 'if I were to ask you for a small loan', because he wishes to stress the probability of his making the request; the if-clause is effectively the request, of course.

    I'm glad you felt the examples were good illustrations of cases where people would naturally say 'was' rather than 'were' in the sort of if-clause we are discussing, 'in spite of the "rules"', you say. This is the first use in the thread of the word 'rules'. The example I gave from The American Heritage Book of English Usage, in my post 21, presents the orthodoxy as being very much in line with what I've been saying, so your representation of the 'rules' as running against me I found surprising.

    The two sentences in the opening post were:

    He would be given the death penalty if he is found guilty. - for me this is conversational and an incorrect form of the perfectly correct, second sentence:

    He would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty.
     

    djamal 2008

    Senior Member
    arabic
    << The quoted post #39 is not referenced in the text below and therefore has been deleted. >>


    You use the subjunctive to express an unreal event; if you say : If I were you ( but it is not the case) I 'd buy a car to mean if I were in your position ( I am not in the position you are in).
    I would speak if I was asked to.
     
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    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    "If I was" to me is 100% right when it's equivalent to "when I was": "if I was naughty, my parents punished me."
    I agree, and replacing "if I was" with "when I was" is an excellent 'acid test' to check whether something is factual or hypothetical.

    He would be given the death penalty if he was found guilty (colloquial)
    I understand this, alternatively, as a habit in the past: If the accused culprit had murdered someone, he would inevitably be given the death penalty, or "When he was found guilty, he would be given the death penalty".
    He would be given the death penalty if he were found guilty (formal)
    We do not need to discuss the likelihood of him being found guilty or not, it is hypothetical simply because it has not happened yet, i.e. the jury has not reached a verdict, so we don't know the outcome. This is enough to warrant past subjunctive in my understanding. Use of "would": We think that he will be given the death penalty in that case, but we are not 100% certain.
    He will be given the death penalty if he is found guilty.
    We are convinced that he will inevitably be given the death penalty if found guilty, although we haven't heard the outcome yet. We could almost say "...when he is found guilty."

    /Wilma
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    The disagreement between us about the Jane Austen quote from Mrs Bennett's conversation stands. I don't think the tiresome lady is being made to speak ungrammatically. Her language is tedious but grammatical, in the main.
    I really don't have an opinion about Mrs. Bennett's grammar except that the sentence in question looks at least as much like a bona fide counterfactual to me as the JA sentence with if he were here. I thought you were saying the same thing.
    You asked: 'What future?'. I didn't, perhaps, make clear that the people are discussing on what occasions a doctor uses those words. Previously you had, as I understood, objected that because the examples I chose were either in a past narrative context, or rather loose conversation, they were not unequivocably about the future; you may even have given me the impression that they were unequivocably about the past. It seemed to me that when someone says 'A doctor would tell a man 'not to worry' if he was to be hanged the next morning!' he is speaking about a hypothetical future. The man has not been hanged who is there to be told not to worry.
    Both the doctor's statement and the hanging may be in the future, or they may both be in the past. I think the meaning in context is that this is the nature of doctors, and this if is unlike the others in that it means "even if", almost "whether or not".
    Of my Saki example, you say:

    The context is a tramp asking someone for money. He says 'If I was to ask you for a small loan' rather than 'if I were to ask you for a small loan', because he wishes to stress the probability of his making the request; the if-clause is effectively the request, of course.
    In this case, my interpretation is nearly opposite yours: that he is trying to "veil" the request in an effort to get a "gladly" before actually extending his hand.
    I'm glad you felt the examples were good illustrations of cases where people would naturally say 'was' rather than 'were' in the sort of if-clause we are discussing, 'in spite of the "rules"', you say. This is the first use in the thread of the word 'rules'.
    I meant that the simple "rules" I had been advocating require a "depending on context" that I may not have explicitly stated.
    The example I gave from The American Heritage Book of English Usage, in my post 21, presents the orthodoxy as being very much in line with what I've been saying, so your representation of the 'rules' as running against me I found surprising.
    I suspect the author of the American Heritage write-up on the subjunctive did not mean "contrary to fact" as literally as it may appear and probably means something more like "hypothetical" but did not consider it worth the time, or maybe the space, to differentiate this type of "hypothetical" from any other.

    That write-up provides two examples of the type of hypotheticals we are talking about:

    She’s already acting as if she were going to be promoted.
    Suppose she were to resign, what would you do then?


    One might argue that suppose and as if follow different rules than plain if, but I really doubt the author really means to say that traditional rules would require knowledge of the future to be presupposed in either of these two if sentences:

    This is the way she would act if she were going to be promoted.
    If she were to resign, what would you do then?


    As I read them, all of the examples given of sentences that follow "traditional" rules accord with what I am trying to say and with what I think the author means.

    I stand by my statement that the two original sentences are correct in form but are not likely what the original poster imagines they are. The number of possible "conditionals" is not infinite but is more than the few I have seen enumerated in ESL materials.

    The key is context. Would is ambiguous, and almost every sentence with would needs context, such as other main-clause verbs showing tense, to resolve the ambiguity.
     
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