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Conditionals express what tense

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Conditionals express what tense

Postby Enigma » Mon Mar 08, 2010 5:54 pm

Once again there is some irregularities in the discussion on conditionals on the web: some say the 2nd conditional only refers to the future, but this is irrelevant to my post.

Assuming we all agree that the 1st conditional is a future conditional, the 2nd conditional is a present or future conditional, and the third is a past conditional, I'd like you to consider a variation of #3 of the original sentences in the thread about 'would have':

I left home early to make sure I would have extra time if I got lost.


Since the conditional is embedded within a (main) clause, it seems fair to say that the time expressed in the 2nd conditional above is different from what we believe the tense of the 2nd conditional typically expresses, is it not?

In other words,

If I got lost, I would have extra time refers to an imaginary present or future world. But when the conditional is embedded, the time expressed is the past (present of the past or future of the past), is it not?

Shouldn't this explanation--that the second conditional expresses a present or future tense relative to the tense of the main clause(if one exists)--be included on websites?


Thanks for reading.
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Re: Conditionals express what tense

Postby Audiendus » Mon Mar 08, 2010 8:42 pm

Enigma wrote:I left home early to make sure I would have extra time if I got lost.

Looking at this again, I think it is a first conditional. "If I got lost" must refer to a realistic possibility, otherwise he would not have gone to the trouble of leaving home early! He thought: "I must leave home early. Then, if I get lost, I will have extra time."

The question then is: what is the mood of "got"? On the one hand, by analogy with "if I get" (which is present indicative), it ought to be past indicative. On the other hand, it refers to a future time from that person's viewpoint, so past indicative doesn't seem quite right. My initial impression was that it was past subjunctive, and I am still inclined to that view, bearing in mind that the alternative ("if I were to get lost") is unquestionably past subjunctive.
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Postby Enigma » Tue Mar 09, 2010 2:12 am

Sorry, but I'm inclined to call a sentence first conditional only if it is present indicative. The formula is just too engrained into my head for me to consider an alternate one:

1st conditional: if + present simple (indicative), simple future.
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Postby Audiendus » Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:55 am

Enigma wrote:Sorry, but I'm inclined to call a sentence first conditional only if it is present indicative. The formula is just too engrained into my head for me to consider an alternate one:

1st conditional: if + present simple (indicative), simple future.

Consider the following sentences:

1. He assures me that if I need money he will lend me some.
2. He assured me that if I needed money he would lend me some.
Are you saying that the 1st conditional in (1) turns into a 2nd conditional in (2), merely because the tense of "assure" is different? Even though the likelihood of my needing money is the same in each case?
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Postby Enigma » Tue Mar 09, 2010 8:46 pm

Yes, that is my understanding.

Likelihood has only some influence over the conditional used. More important is the tense used in the conditional. In other words, we label a conditional based on what tense and mood is used, which subsequently, more often than not, creates a consistent degree of likelihood.
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Postby Enigma » Tue Mar 09, 2010 8:53 pm

Alas, my knowledge of embedded conditional clauses is somewhat iffy.

I don't know who to ask, or where to ask for answers. All sites explaining conditionals never explain such conditional sentences. If you know of any...
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Postby Audiendus » Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:19 pm

Enigma wrote:Alas, my knowledge of embedded conditional clauses is somewhat iffy.

I don't know who to ask, or where to ask for answers. All sites explaining conditionals never explain such conditional sentences. If you know of any...

Try googling "Conditional in reported speech" (in quotes). There is an interesting presentation about this on YouTube, as well as some other relevant websites.
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Postby Enigma » Wed Mar 10, 2010 5:15 pm

Ah, what a good idea. Thank you. I'll do just that.
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Postby Enigma » Wed Mar 10, 2010 8:11 pm

Reported speech is dealing with a slightly different issue, I think.

This is changing tense due to backshifts. I'm wanting to know what determines the tense of a conditional when there is a verb outside the conditional:

I left home early to make sure if I got lost, I would have extra time.

What happens if I change it to leave?

The second conditional is used in the above to show an unreal world/imaginary, if you will. What happens if we use 'leave' the present simple, but if we want to continue expressing an unreal conditional?

Do you think the rule applying to reported speech mentioned in the youtube video applies here also, namely 'don't change the tense if we are dealing with unreal tenses?'
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Postby Audiendus » Wed Mar 10, 2010 9:28 pm

Enigma wrote:Reported speech is dealing with a slightly different issue, I think.

This is changing tense due to backshifts. I'm wanting to know what determines the tense of a conditional when there is a verb outside the conditional.

This is why I think reported speech is relevant, as it necessarily involves a verb outside the conditional. It seems reasonable to assume that the rules for reported-speech conditionals will apply to any case where the conditional is embedded in a subordinate clause.

Enigma wrote:I left home early to make sure if I got lost, I would have extra time.

What happens if I change it to leave?

The second conditional is used in the above to show an unreal world/imaginary, if you will. What happens if we use 'leave' the present simple, but if we want to continue expressing an unreal conditional?

Ah, but I do not agree that the conditional is unreal. If it were unreal/imaginary, why would the speaker have left home early? Here is what I would call an unreal conditional:

If today's meeting were an hour later [which it is not], I would have extra time.

Contrast this with:

If I get lost, I will have extra time.

His getting lost is a real possibility which he has to consider. So I think your sentence involves a real (i.e. first)conditional backshifted into the past. (It does not matter very much whether you still call it a first conditional after the shift. I think it would be preferable to do so, in order to maintain the distinction between real and imaginary conditionals; but that is a minor issue. The important matter is to establish the correct form of the sentence.)

So in answer to your question - if we change "left" to "leave", the sentence will read:

I leave home early to make sure that if I get lost, I will have extra time.
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Postby Enigma » Wed Mar 10, 2010 11:52 pm

This is why I think reported speech is relevant, as it necessarily involves a verb outside the conditional.


I forgot to explain the distinction. The phone interrupted me, so my thought trailed off. I agree they both concern embedded conditionals, but is backshifting not confined to reported speech...?

Ah, but I do not agree that the conditional is unreal. If it were unreal/imaginary, why would the speaker have left home early? Here is what I would call an unreal conditional:

If today's meeting were an hour later [which it is not], I would have extra time.

Contrast this with:

If I get lost, I will have extra time.

His getting lost is a real possibility which he has to consider. So I think your sentence involves a real (i.e. first)conditional backshifted into the past. (It does not matter very much whether you still call it a first conditional after the shift. I think it would be preferable to do so, in order to maintain the distinction between real and imaginary conditionals; but that is a minor issue. The important matter is to establish the correct form of the sentence.)

So in answer to your question - if we change "left" to "leave", the sentence will read:

I leave home early to make sure that if I get lost, I will have extra time



OK, so you think the conditional is a 1st conditional, backshifted to the past tense due to the presence of the past tense verb 'left'?


I totally agree with this much, especially after watching that youtube clip.

What if I present to you the following sentence:

If I got lost, I would have extra time.

I assume you agree this works fine, suggesting that it is, in fact, hypothetical and unlikely that I will get lost?


(It does not matter very much whether you still call it a first conditional after the shift. I think it would be preferable to do so, in order to maintain the distinction between real and imaginary conditionals


Agreed. (that is what I said earlier. Often the likelihood cannot be established by the conditional's form, but this doesn't matter as the important thing is to have the correct form.)

The important matter is to establish the correct form of the sentence


When you mean the correct form, I assume you mean the tense that matches the tense of the verb outside the conditional?


My only concern is whether we are definitely correct in applying the same rules and logic for reported speech with these examples.

Btw, I don't understand this sentence of yours, I'm afraid:

If I get lost, I will have extra time.


How does one have extra time if one gets lost?
Last edited by Enigma on Thu Mar 11, 2010 5:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Audiendus » Thu Mar 11, 2010 10:00 am

Enigma wrote:OK, so you think the conditional is a 1st conditional, backshifted to the past tense due to the presence of the past tense verb 'left'?

Yes.

Enigma wrote:What if I present to you the following sentence:

If I got lost, I would have extra time.

I assume you agree this works fine, suggesting that it is, in fact, hypothetical and unlikely that I will get lost?

If it is a complete sentence, then yes, it is hypothetical (unreal) and definitely a 2nd conditional. It suggests that the extra time is not the result of a deliberate precaution to cope with getting lost.

Enigma wrote:When you mean the correct form, I assume you mean the tense that matches the tense of the verb outside the conditional?

Yes.

Enigma wrote:My only concern is whether we are definitely correct in applying the same rules and logic for reported speech with these examples.

I assume that we are, but I will consider this further.

Enigma wrote:Btw, I don't understand this sentence of yours, I'm afraid:
If I get lost, I will have extra time.

How does one have extra time if they get lost?

"Extra time" here means "more time than if one had got lost after not leaving home early". (This sentence is just the present-tense version of your own example.)
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Postby Enigma » Thu Mar 11, 2010 5:33 pm

First conditional:

Time: This condition refers either to present or to future time.

Second conditional:

Time: present; the TENSE is past, but we are talking about the present, now.



This above is copied from a website.

Isn't the above true--regarding what is said about the time expressed by the conditionals--except when conditionals are embedded within a main clause?

Because when they are embedded, the time expressed is not neccessarily a present or future time, but possibly a past time:

I left home early to make sure if I got lost, I would have extra time.

Here, for example, this conditional sentence, I believe, expresses a future time in the past. (not a present or future time). Wouldn't you agree?
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Postby Enigma » Thu Mar 11, 2010 6:35 pm

And I still think we are not sure about the verb 'got' in this example, where we have the backshift.

If it were the past subjunctive, then the conditional would have to be second conditional, not first.

But then it can't be a past tense verb, because the verb refers to a time in the future.
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Postby Audiendus » Thu Mar 11, 2010 7:44 pm

Enigma wrote:I left home early to make sure if I got lost, I would have extra time.

Here, for example, this conditional sentence, I believe, expresses a future time in the past. (not a present or future time). Wouldn't you agree?

Yes, I am sure this is correct. We can have a backshifted 1st conditional (as in the above example), or a backshifted 2nd conditional, as in the following:

I realised that if I were younger, I would have more energy.

(The present-tense version of this would be: "I realise that if I were [now] younger, I would have more energy." - 2nd conditional.)

But this leads us to an interesting point. In a backshifted 1st conditional, what is the correct mood of the verb after "if", where the past subjunctive form differs from the indicative? For example, should we say:

I knew that if I was careful the next day, I would probably win.
or:
I knew that if I were careful the next day, I would probably win.

(Note: The present-tense version would be: "I know that if I am careful tomorrow, I will probably win." - 1st conditional.)
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