'If only I ___ a little more, I ____ to help you'

Marseillais

Member
French
'If only I ___ a little more, I ____ to help you'

1) knew, might be able
2) had known, may be able
3) had to know, might be able
4) knew, might have been able

I'd choose the first one, is that right?

I would really appreciate your help.
 
  • boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Yes, that is right. 4) is perhaps a remote possibility too, but it would take a very special context, almost unachievable. :)
    Welcome to the forum, by the way. :)
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I had serious doubts about whether I could use /knew, might have been able/.
    I have serious doubts too. I am more inclined to rule out 4) completely because I cannot come up with a suitable context for it. However, in theory both verbs are in the past tense and someone just might be able to come up with a good example for 4)...

    PS. One thing is for sure - the test maker wants you to choose 1) :)
     

    Marseillais

    Member
    French
    "if I guessed wrong, and my daughter might have been fine"

    I heard this in the movie.
    It was the main reason why i had those doubts today..
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Welcome from me too :)
    I agree with boozer, luckily ( ;) ), except I find it easy to think of a situation when 4) might be correct. However, when we get these contextless options we have to chose what we know is correct, not what might be correct.

    1) is correct because it is firmly situated in present time with the past forms being used as 'conditionals' in a hypothetical sentence. Well done - it is tricky with these modal verbs and their alternative forms. (Present -I don't know anything about this, so /I can't/ I am not able/ to help you)

    2) is not correct because it would be 'If I had known more, I might have been able to help him' - situated in the past. We do not know if the speaker knows more about the subject now than he did in the past. There's a posssible implication that he in fact does, but without context we can't be sure.

    If you choose 3) it shows you need to work harder.

    4) knew, might have been able

    'If I knew more, I might have been able to help him'

    Here the speaker chooses to emphasis that he still knows nothing about the topic. He couldn't help then and couldn't help now. In a more complicated sentence it could be 'If I knew as much about autism then as I know now, I would have realised that the child was showing autistic traits', but I admit that as a BE speaker I would be more likely to say 'If I had known as much then as I do now ... '

    Hermione
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    "if I guessed wrong, and my daughter might have been fine"
    Hello again

    The 'and' has no place here.

    It's possible that you heard 'If I guessed wrong, my daughter might have been fine', but I simply can't work out the logic of this statement. If he had guessed right his daughter /might still have been/might still be /fine'. If his daughter is not fine now as a result of his guess, it suggests that he guessed wrong, (or 'wrongly'/'rightly' as I would tend to say.)

    Then there is the question of the tense- simple past 'guessed' or past perfect 'had guessed'. To my mind, there is no question that it should be the past perfect here in this sort of context. A guess is something that takes place once in the past, unlike 'know'. Knowing or not knowing can be an on-going process. Guessing can be too, I suppose. Maybe the quote should be "I guess that if I had guessed rightly, my daughter would be fine now". As an old Britess, I don't use 'guess' when I mean 'suppose'. Maybe I have been misunderstanding this use of 'guess'.

    It's hard for me to comment further. What film was this?

    Hermione
     

    Destruida

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    "if I guessed wrong, and my daughter might have been fine"

    I heard this in the movie.
    It was the main reason why i had those doubts today..
    A lot of native Englsih speakers misuse tenses in conditional sentences, in fact it's becoming so common that correct usage is always a pleasant surprise. That's probably why you're confused. The example you give from a movie is typical.
     

    Marseillais

    Member
    French
    Hermione, I really am sorry. It was an episode of 'The Killing', and I've been struggling for the last hour to figure out that the sentence I remembered wasn't correct at all. Rewatched that episode and found a mistake.
    It wasn't a result of his guess, the phrase was 'What if I guessed wrong, and my daughter might have been fine...'. This sentence got stuck in my mind during a test, don't really know why. Sorry again!

    I should have paid more attention :(
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    'If only I ___ a little more, I ____ to help you'

    1) knew, might be able
    2) had known, may be able
    3) had to know, might be able
    4) knew, might have been able

    I'd choose the first one, is that right?

    I would really appreciate your help.
    I know the question isn't alive still for Marseillais, but it has me intrigued. I'll try to explain:

    The correct straightforward sequence of tenses in conditionals is as follows (if-clause/main-clause): 1st. Present/Future; 2nd. Simple past/Conditional. 3rd. Past perfect/Past conditional.

    What are the tense sequences being offered?

    1) knew, might be able (Simple past/Conditional):tick:2nd.
    2) had known, may be able (Past perfect/Present):cross:
    3) had to know, might be able (Simple past/Conditional):tick:2nd.
    4) knew, might have been able (Simple past/Past conditional):cross:at first sight, but there is a mixed conditional with this form which relates ongoing circumstances (if I knew) to a past event (I might have been able), but it's more common with negative conditions (if I didn't know, I would not have...) I think it's this that has made people accept 4 and also explains their reluctance to do so. The form is odd with a positive condition.

    What interests me particularly is why have so many people, except I think for Hermione, rejected the perfectly correct 3. What is so very odd about 3. If only I had to know a little more, I might be able to help ?

    I think it's just very hard to think of circumstances where it might apply. Change it a bit, If only I had to drive the car, I might be able to pass the test, and the grammatical correctness becomes clear, I'd say.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I think it's just very hard to think of circumstances where it might apply.
    Hi, TT. :) I agree with you - in terms of grammar theory all past tense/past tense cases in conditionals should be acceptable, even 3) However, its meaning is so bizarre that it makes you wonder if at all it can ever be used. Same as 4), I think. :) (where "if I knew" refers to a hypothetical situation in the present, while the result clause is strictly about the past, so how can we logically have present cause and past effect?)
     
    4) knew, might have been able (Simple past/Past conditional):cross:at first sight, but there is a mixed conditional with this form which relates ongoing circumstances (if I knew) to a past event (I might have been able), but it's more common with negative conditions (if I didn't know, I would not have...) I think it's this that has made people accept 4 and also explains their reluctance to do so. The form is odd with a positive condition.
    Well put, TT. My first thought was to reject "knew" for "had known" in (4). Then I considered a sentence like "if I knew more about tax law, I might have been able to avoid paying a tax penalty." In this situation, I'm saying that I knew nothing about tax law before and still know nothing. As a a result a had a problem in the past with the taxman. Just as you say, at first glance it seems wrong, but in context the tense sequence works. This is yet another reason why context is so important.
     
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