he <would> never guess we <were going> to prank him

Phoebe1200

Senior Member
Russian-Russia
Rank the prank, TV show
Context: Two boys are about to prank their teacher. And this is what they say to the viewers before the prank happens.

= Our prank target is our drama teacher Phil.
< ----- >
= Phil deserves to get pranked because he always pranks us. So we want to pull the ultimate prank on him.
= In a million years, he would never guess we were going to prank him.

I don't quite understand the grammar of this sentence. Is this a conditional "would"? And what about "were going to" following it?


< Sentences removed to comply with 4-sentence limit on quotation (Rule 4). Cagey, moderator >
 
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  • andrewg927

    Senior Member
    English - American
    You use "would" in a hypothetical sense. You can use "will" if you are certain that the teacher will never know. In this case because of the phrase "in a million years" I think it is better to go with "would" (more hypothetical). "were going to" is used in a hypothetical sense to complement "would".
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The "if-clause" is implied by "in a million years": If we waited a million years, he would never guess...
    "Will" is not possible because he's not going to be there in a million years' time.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    So, "were going" is in the past because it's agreeing with the tense of "would"?
    Yes, but you might want to say that they agree in past form rather than "tense," because "would" and "were going" are showing modality ("supposition," that he won't guess) and not "tense." But that's a technical point; you've got the right idea: "would" and "were going" agree.
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    What is still confusing you about the structure of the sentence, Phoebe1200?

    He would never guess (that) we were going to play a prank on him. Not even if he had a million years in which to guess.
     

    karlalou

    Banned
    母国語:日本語
    = In a million years, he would never guess we were going to prank him.
    I see that their plan is also treated as part of the hypothesis, and this is what natives feel natural.

    The kids of course know in near future the teacher will know what they are up to now. In my native language, we will say it with 'dream'; even in his dream he wouldn't have any idea. Just we don't have any concept of these usages of modal verbs.

    So, the expression doesn't really mean 'in the future', but any extra ordinary occasion; it doesn't try to make logical sense of time, but trying to express the extra ordinariness.
     

    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you.

    How would the sentence be different if it was?

    In a million years, he would never guess we could to prank him.
    In a million years, he would never guess if we pranked him.
     

    karlalou

    Banned
    母国語:日本語
    In a million years, he would never guess we could to prank him.
    I think it's possible and of course it becomes to say their ability, and looses the sense of "they are going to do it".

    Not many but I find:
    "Crazy stuff you would never guess you could buy"
    "You would never guess that she could sing like that!"
    "You all would never guess who it could be."

    In a million years, he would never guess if we pranked him.
    I find the same structure, "..., which we would never guess if we didn't already know!", but your's confuses me and sounds like saying "whether or not". Do you mean that?
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Does "were going" actually mean "are going" in the sentence?
    Yes, but only because the previous context tells us that this is the case; in other words, "we want to pull the ultimate prank on him" means that this is going to happen in the future. So, just like "are going," all of these refer to the future:
    he would never guess we were going to prank him
    he would never guess we could prank him
    he would never guess if we pranked him

    and that's because "were," "could" and "pranked" mark modality (possibility, eventuality, etc.) and not past tense.

    Without context, we can't tell, for example, if "could" in "he would never guess we could prank him" means "future" or "past."
     
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    Phoebe1200

    Senior Member
    Russian-Russia
    Thank you all.:)
    Do you mean that?
    No, with this "In a million years, he would never guess if we pranked him" I meant "if we were to prank him".:)
    "You would never guess that she could sing like that!"
    But wouldn't we say here "You would have never guessed that she could sing like that!" since we already know that she can sing well, so our guessing should be in the past?
     

    karlalou

    Banned
    母国語:日本語
    No, with this "In a million years, he would never guess if we pranked him" I meant "if we were to prank him".:)
    With the latter, I can tell that it's saying they are/were to prank him, and the context tells me that it's actually 'are'.
    But wouldn't we say here "You would have never guessed that she could sing like that!" since we already know that she can sing well, so our guessing should be in the past?
    I agree that, when talking about the past, 'would have' should be grammatical, but I happened to be just reading last night this thread saying it's not a rule, .... as if it "was" / "were"..., though I have no idea if it's applicable here.
     
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