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Subjunctive and verb tenses

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Subjunctive and verb tenses

Postby Enigma » Sat Mar 13, 2010 12:41 am

The following sentence was posted on a forum. The question was whether the verb should be 'lost' or 'lose.'

It is as if you had to give an interview after you lost/lose.


The answer given (by a Teacher) was 'lost' and the reason being that 'lost' goes with 'had.'


I don't understand neither why this was the answer nor the reasoning behind it.


'had' is the past subjunctive, referring to a hypothetical situation in the present time, whereas 'lost' is the past indicative, referring to a real situation in the past time.


Are verbs meant to match in form (i.e. past tense had; past tense lost) or in the time they express (i.e. had expresses present time; lose expresses present time)?


If that question is too hard to answer or decipher, here is a simpler question. Why do you think 'lost' should be used (instead of lose)?
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Postby saparris » Sat Mar 13, 2010 9:59 am

It is as if you had to give an interview after you lost/lose.


The verb in the subordinate clause should be had because of the rule applying to sequence of tense. The hypothetical interview occurs in an imaginary past, as does the hypothetical losing.

The sentence would be better if it said "It was as if you had to give an interview after you lost" or "It is as if you have to give an interview after you lose."

However, given the presence of had in the sentence in question, lost is the right choice because you've already established a past tense situation, hypothetical or not.
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Postby Enigma » Sat Mar 13, 2010 3:36 pm

The verb in the subordinate clause should be had because of the rule applying to sequence of tense. The hypothetical interview occurs in an imaginary past, as does the hypothetical losing.


Urgh, I don't know what made me think 'had' referred to the present. It clearly does not.

But I don't think the losing is hypothetical. Isn't the situation that someone speaks to another about how he was spoken to after the loss in a manner that made it seem as though he were doing an interview?

And what if we want to say that had refers to the present but hypothetically?

When using as if/as though, we must use the past subjunctive for both unreal present and unreal past situations. But I cannot see this working here, as wouldn't had incorrectly convey a past time?
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Postby saparris » Sat Mar 13, 2010 7:34 pm

But I don't think the losing is hypothetical. Isn't the situation that someone speaks to another about how he was spoken to after the loss in a manner that made it seem as though he were doing an interview?


I believe that the root of the problem here is that you say "It IS as if you HAD to give an interview after you lost/lose.

"It IS as if you HAVE to give an interview after you lose" connotes a recurring situation in the present. In other words, every time you lose, it seems that you are submitted to a grilling.

"It WAS as if you HAD to give an interview after you lost" connotes a recurring situation in the past. In other words, every time you lost (while you were coaching), you were submitted to the same. Since you quit, it doesn't happen anymore.

Simply speaking, the final verb is lose or lost depending on whether the preceding verb is have or had.
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Postby Audiendus » Sun Mar 14, 2010 3:32 pm

I thought Enigma was referring to a recurring situation in the present. My view is as follows:

Enigma wrote:But I don't think the losing is hypothetical.

In that case, I think it is wrong to embed the "after..." clause within the "as if..." clause*, since the expression "as if" does refer to a hypothetical situation. The "after..." clause should be taken out of the "as if..." clause, and then you can say "lose":

After you lose, it is as if you had to give an interview.

* I suppose you could argue that the "after" clause is not embedded in the first place. But the original wording is ambiguous on this point.
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Postby saparris » Sun Mar 14, 2010 5:41 pm

* I suppose you could argue that the "after" clause is not embedded in the first place. But the original wording is ambiguous on this point.


I would argue that the "after" clause is not embedded, since it can be moved to the front of the sentence without a change in meaning.

However, there a really lots of things wrong here.

First, "having to give an interview" has a quite negative connotation when, in fact, giving an interview is not negative--win or lose. Rather, it would seem expected in a sport setting. Semantically, the sentence is off balance.

Second, the is/was, have/had, lose/lost aspects I mentioned earlier still bothers me. The sentence appears to be referring to both a present recurring situation and a past recurring one at the same time. So grammatically, it's no better.

I don't think it can be fixed without additional context.
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Postby Audiendus » Sun Mar 14, 2010 8:00 pm

saparris wrote:I would argue that the "after" clause is not embedded, since it can be moved to the front of the sentence without a change in meaning.

This point is crucial to Enigma's original question. If the sentence begins with "It is", it must end with "lost" if the "after" clause is embedded, but "lose" if it is not.

saparris wrote:I don't think it can be fixed without additional context.

I agree.
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Postby Enigma » Mon Mar 15, 2010 3:09 am

It is as if you had to give an interview after you lost/lose.



It is as if you have to give an interview after you lose=habitual, present

It was as if you had to give an interview after you lost=had could be a hypothetical or real tense verb. Context clears this up.

It is as if you had to give an interview after you lose=Although it seems wrong, I don't know why it would be.

Tell me what you think after reading this from grammaring.com:

Clauses that start with as if/as though express doubt or uncertainty if they are followed by an unreal tense. Otherwise, they express that the statement is true or might be true.

He looks as if he knows the answer. (= He seems to know the answer, and he probably does.)
He looks as if he knew the answer. (= He seems to know the answer, but he doesn't.)
In the past tense both sentences will read as follows. Mind that knew in the second sentence does not change into had known.

He looked as if he knew the answer.
The meaning of this sentence, therefore, can only be deduced from the context.
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
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Postby Audiendus » Mon Mar 15, 2010 9:13 am

Yes, the quote from grammaring.com seems perfectly reasonable.

Enigma wrote:It is as if you had to give an interview after you lose=Although it seems wrong, I don't know why it would be.

It could be right, but it depends on the meaning. See my previous post. It is not a very clear sentence out of context.
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Postby saparris » Mon Mar 15, 2010 9:16 am

It could be right, but it depends on the meaning. See my previous post. It is not a very clear sentence out of context.


And I would argue the same for "He looks as if he knew the answer."
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