If it was .., it surely would have .... [type of conditional?]

thetazuo

Senior Member
Chinese - China
The fact that the droplet had not self-destructed was final proof of what people had guessed: If it was a military probe, it surely would have self-destructed after falling into enemy hands. It was now certain that this was a gift from Trisolaris to humanity, a sign of peace sent in that civilization’s baffling mode of expression.

Excerpt From
The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth's Past)
Cixin Liu

The context is that the alien called Trisolaris send a vessel/aircraft-like object called “the droplet” to the solar system and got captured by humanity.
Hi. Is the underlined sentence a combination of a real past in the if-clause with a hypothetical past in the main clause?
Or should I understand it as a detective’s conditional, meaning “it didn’t self-destruct after falling into enemy hands, so it wasn’t a military probe”?
Thank you.
 
  • DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    The fact that the droplet had not self-destructed was final proof of what people had guessed: If it was a military probe, it surely would have self-destructed after falling into enemy hands. It was now certain that this was a gift from Trisolaris to humanity, a sign of peace sent in that civilization’s baffling mode of expression.
    The way I read it, it's a standard counterfactual Type III conditional.

    It didn't self-destruct, if it had been a military probe it would have done, so the scenario of a military probe self destructing after falling into enemy hands is the reverse of what actually happened.

    I agree with dragonbones: I'd have written that as "If it had been" and not "If it was".
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It seems to me you have a choice between these two:

    A mixed II/III conditional like If you weren't blind, you would have seen him.

    A detective's conditional like If the thief jumped out of the window, he would have left footprints in the flowerbed.

    The key difference is that in the mixed II/III the if-clause is concerned with a condition (like being blind) which persists into the time when the comment is made. The writer may, of course, be trying to hint at the first, before disabusing the reader in the next sentence - I don't know whether being a military probe is consistent with being a gift from Trisolaris to humanity: this seems superficially unlikely.
     
    Last edited:

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    The way I read it, it's a standard counterfactual Type III conditional.
    Yes, that's possible, but also a mixed II/III conditional makes sense here. It all depends on the viewpoint of the speaker.

    We can see that the author used a past narrative. When we change it to present, the analysis is easier:
    The fact that the droplet has not self-destructed is final proof of what people have guessed:

    -> now we have 2 viable viewpoints to express the next idea.
    1) Let's say, you're the narrator and scientist who is making this statement. The probe is right in front of you, you can see it, touch it, but you can't open it. Since you know the object is real and you can see it hasn't self-destructed, you'd be inclined to use present tense, counterfactual in the if-clause, i.e. type 2. The main clause must remain past counterfactual because the capturing and not self-destructing happened in the past.
    If this were a military probe, it surely would have self-destructed when you tried to capture it (yesterday).

    2) same scenario, but the probe is not in front of you. Somebody simply reported to you that the probe was captured, it didn't explode, and it was brought to a safe place. Now the speaker does not have that direct connection to the object, and therefore he has a tendency to mentally focus on the main event, the capturing and the fact that it didn't explode - which happened in the past - and he's inclined to used past counterfactual for the if-clause too:
    If this had been a military probe, it surely would have self-destructed when you tried to capture it (yesterday).

    There's no fundamental difference in meaning between these two forms here because the statement evaluated in the if-clause is a stative statement. The probe either is or it is not a military probe, and that really makes it sort of "timeless".
    Does that make sense to you? Basically dragonbones already confirmed this by saying that he'd use 'if it were' or 'if it had been', but he didn't explain the reasoning behind it.

    [cross-posted: and it seems that several views are similar or at least compatible to my view]
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Yes, I think I agree with TT (and Tunaafi...)

    It is what people think that matters. They are thinking it now:
    It is not a military probe. If it was, it would have self-destructed. But it did not. So it is not a military probe.

    Mixed conditional.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, I think I agree with TT (and Tunaafi...)

    It is what people think that matters. They are thinking it now:
    It is not a military probe. If it was, it would have self-destructed. But it did not. So it is not a military probe.

    Mixed conditional.
    I didn't make myself clear, Boozer.

    I don't see how it can be a mixed II/III, because the object doesn't seem to be a military probe (continuous state persisting into the time of speaking).

    I think it must be the detective's conditional (open past conditional). They conclude (like a detective) that it wasn't a probe because it didn't self-destruct.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I see.

    But does it not look like people are actually quoted guessing all that? (which would make it a mixed conditional...) :)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I see.

    But does it not look like people are actually quoted guessing all that? (which would make it a mixed conditional...) :)
    Yes, I take your point. Then I think we are left with the strong possibility that the translator is inept and meant a III conditional.

    Except that this translation may be for the American market, in which case alternative conventions may apply.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    The thing is... this 'thing' they are talking about still is. What I mean is, it did not self-destruct. It still exists. They may not be quite certain what it is, but it is still there, intact. This is why they are saying 'if it was a military probe' - because the time of its existence is still present, type 2 protasis.

    You see something squirming but you don't know what it is. Is it a worm? No, if it was, it would not have eyes. Is it a snake? No, if it was a snake, it would have scales*, etc.

    * ...and even - if it was a snake, it would have bitten you when you touched it - a similar example.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The thing is... this 'thing' they are talking about still is. What I mean is, it did not self-destruct. It still exists. They may not be quite certain what it is, but it is still there, intact. This is why they are saying 'if it was a military probe' - because the time of its existence is still present, type 2 protasis.

    You see something squirming but you don't know what it is. Is it a worm? No, if it was, it would not have eyes. Is it a snake? No, if it was a snake, it would have scales, etc.
    Yes, they are talking about how to interpret a phenomenon in the past - The fact that the droplet had not self-destructed was final proof of what people had guessed.

    Was it a worm? No, if it had been, it would not have had eyes.


    I can't go with your presentation of this in the present. After all they say It was now certain that this was a gift from Trisolaris to humanity. :) (as always with you, Boozer)
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I can't go with your presentation of this in the present.
    Well, the past-tense narration does tend to obscure what the author sees as present. In fact, everything the characters see as present is narrated in the past tense, so all conditionals' types become less obvious. All except the quoted ones, and I believe we have a quoted conditional sentence here. :)
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    Hi. Thank you all.
    I don't see how it can be a mixed II/III, because the object doesn't seem to be a military probe (continuous state persisting into the time of speaking).
    The key difference is that in the mixed II/III the if-clause is concerned with a condition (like being blind) which persists into the time when the comment is made. The writer may, of course, be trying to hint at the first, before disabusing the reader in the next sentence - I don't know whether being a military probe is consistent with being a gift from Trisolaris to humanity: this seems superficially unlikely.
    I haven’t read all the posts since manfy’s post, but I don’t understand the above part, sorry.
    But isn’t the droplet’s not being a military probe a continuous state persisting into the time of speaking? :confused:
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    [...]
    But isn’t the droplet’s not being a military probe a continuous state persisting into the time of speaking? :confused:
    Certainly, but that wasn't the condition.

    Its being a military probe was the condition, and that has been shown not to have been the case at the time, never mind persisting into the present.
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    Thank you.
    Certainly, but that wasn't the condition.

    Its being a military probe was the condition, and that has been shown not to have been the case at the time, never mind persisting into the present.
    A mixed II/III conditional like If you weren't blind, you would have seen him.
    The key difference is that in the mixed II/III the if-clause is concerned with a condition (like being blind) which persists into the time when the comment is made.
    But in your “blind” example, “being blind” is not the condition, while your not being blind is; and that has been shown not to have been the case at the time, not to mention persisting into the present.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    But in your “blind” example, “being blind” is not the condition, while your not being blind is;
    If you weren't blind - not being blind is the condition.

    If it was a military probe - its being a military probe is the condition. I understood you to say that its not being a military probe was the condition -
    But isn’t the droplet’s not being a military probe a continuous state persisting into the time of speaking?
    Maybe I misunderstood you.
     

    thetazuo

    Senior Member
    Chinese - China
    Thank you, TT.
    The way I read it, it's a standard counterfactual Type III conditional.
    I think it must be the detective's conditional (open past conditional). They conclude (like a detective) that it wasn't a probe because it didn't self-destruct.
    Maybe it’s just a difference in points of view, but I think a detective’s conditional is not entirely an open past conditional. In an open past conditional, both if-clause and main clause are unknown; in a detective’s conditional, the main clause is known, either being counterfactual or being true (I suspect I shouldn’t say if a clause is true or false, as you told me, but I can’t think of a more appropriate expression right now), and we are making an indirect inference from the main clause (evidence) to if clause (conclusion).
    So I think a detective’s conditional is a conditional somewhere between open past conditional and Type 3 conditional.
    Thus, allowing for the context, I think the op example is a detective’s conditional, though it takes the form of a mixed 2/3, which is not the case here, because the inference is from if clause to main clause.

    Does this make sense to you?
     
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