Using "unless" with impossible situations

taceev

Senior Member
Turkish
Cambridge says: We don’t use unless for impossible conditions and gives example :

If the government had not raised food prices, there would not have been so many protests. (The goverment raised food prices.)
Not: Unless the government had raised food prices
I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t seen you. (We did see you.)
Not: I don’t know what we would have done unless we’d seen you.
I But I found a website that shows all the conditionals with unless.

For example :

1- I wouldn't have phoned him unless you'd suggested it. (This sentence implies that "you" suggested it so this is an impossible condition and according to Cambridge , that sentence is wrong.)

Which website is correct then? I just found another website that agrees with Cambridge.
 
  • Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I am not seeing where you are getting "impossible conditions" from these sites. I might have missed it, but I did not see it when I read them over.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    Your analysis of the suggested example is incorrect : you are correct that it implies that « you » suggested it but that means that it’s NOT an impossible condition : not only is you suggesting it possible, it’s what actually happened.
     

    taceev

    Senior Member
    Turkish
    I am not seeing where you are getting "impossible conditions" from these sites. I might have missed it, but I did not see it when I read them over.
    By saying "impossible", I meant the hypothetical past conditions like "If the government had not raised food prices". That means the goverment raised food prices in the past.

    Do you agree that these sentences are wrong as the dictionary pointed ? "I don’t know what we would have done unless we’d seen you." and "Unless the government had raised food prices, there would not have been so many protests.

    If you agree that these sentences are wrong then I suppose you should say some of the sentences in this websites are wrong because they are using the same structure as the sentences above- third conditional.
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I wonder what you mean by an impossible condition. Your examples suggest you mean conditions which were not met, not those which could not (under any circumstances) be met - which is what I'd mean by such a condition.

    You posted your definition while I was writing:
    I meant the hypothetical past conditions
    Does 'hypothetical' in your definition mean 'unfulfilled'? I can't see that it can, because 'if the government had not done X' implies that the government did X.

    For example : 1- I wouldn't have phoned him unless you'd suggested it. (This sentence implies that "you" suggested it so this is an impossible condition and according to Cambridge , that sentence is wrong.)
    The sentence, I wouldn't have phoned him unless you'd suggested it, is entirely normal and idiomatic. It's implied that you did suggest it, so the condition, far from being "impossible" was actually met.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Here are two websites to help you with this, Taceev:

    Unless - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionary - here's something from Cambridge which you may find more helpful:

    We don’t use unless for things that we know to be true:

    You won’t be able to get a ticket for the match unless you’re prepared to pay a lot of money for it. (The speaker doesn’t know if you’re prepared to pay a lot of money for a ticket.)
    I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t seen you. (We did see you.)
    I think we have here what you meant earlier by 'impossible conditions'. If the speaker knows something to be true he can't use the condition that it may not be true presented by unless. In the second example where we did see you, we can't say I don't know what we would have done unless we'd seen you.

    If I say Unless his father was Chinese, he can't have a Chinese passport, I'm implying that I don't know whether or not his father was Chinese.

    The second website shows unless being used in various forms of conditional sentence: How to use "Unless" | English Grammar | EF

    Their example, I wouldn't have phoned him unless you'd suggested it, implies that you did suggest it.
     

    taceev

    Senior Member
    Turkish
    @Thomas Tompion

    Thank you Thomas. But these two website are the the websites I linked to in my first post. There is a contradiction between these two website. Cambridge says: I can't say this sentence: "I don't know what we would have done unless we'd seen you." because "seeing you" is a true action that did happen in the past. "I" know that happened in the past. So I create a condition that didn't happen in the past. In a way this is "impossible". But let's don't waste our time on this "impossible" issue.

    I think there is a dilemma: The other website contracts with Cambridge because in that website, here is the link, there are a lot of examples contain the same structure as the example above.

    For example: I wouldn't have phoned him unless you'd suggested it. (Means you suggested it. But in this hypotethical past condition, that I know it is not true, I imply a different scenario from the reality-in reality you did suggest it.)

    As you can see, Cambridge says I can't use "unless" in such situations but the other website shows examples that use "unless" in these situations.

    I don't know how to express myself anymore. I think there is a clear contradiction between these two websites. Either I can't show the contradiction or there is not contradiction at all.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Taceev, my feeling is that you should stick to the advice of the Cambridge and BBC websites - the first and third ones you linked to.

    Some of the advice in the Education First website - the second one you linked to - looks strange to me.
    For example, these sentences are not equivalents:
    With If Equivalent with Unless
    If he wasn't very ill, he would be at work. Unless he was very ill, he would be at work.
    I wouldn't eat that food if I wasn't really hungry. I wouldn't eat that food unless I was really hungry.
    She would be here by now if she wasn't stuck in traffic. She would be here by now unless she was stuck in traffic.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    A lively question here then is why this is wrong:

    "I don't know what we would have done unless we'd seen you.":cross:

    whereas this is right:

    I wouldn't have phoned him unless you'd suggested it. :tick:

    These are the two sentences with what you, Taceev, regard as having the same structure, of which only one is idiomatic.

    The first needs to be converted into I don't know what we would have done if we hadn't seen you.:tick:

    Clearly this has something to do with the structure of the implied conditionals here, because

    I wouldn't have known what to do unless we'd seen you :tick: is fine, but

    I wouldn't phone him unless you'd suggested it :cross: is wrong.

    This suggests to me that what matters here is the sequence of tenses in the implied conditional sentences rather than any obvious link to the potential truth-status of the conditionals themselves (though the two may be linked).
     
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