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Query Details

Query Subject:   Q: mixed conditional sentences
Author:   Kenji Kashino
Submitter Email:  click here to access email

Query:   Hello, linguists. I have a question about English subjunctive, especially
mixed conditional sentences.

The normal pattern of subjunctive past perfect is like this:
(1) If you had worked harder, you would have passed your exam.
But I sometimes find mixed conditional sentences such as "If+subject+pas
tense, subject+ would[could] + have + past participle"in novels, as in:
(2) I'd have done the same thing if you were my daughter.
(3) If I was a nun, I'd never have had Lucy.
(4) If I had brains, I could have solved the problem.
My view on this is as follows: These sentences contain stative verbs such
as "be", "have" in "if" clauses.
When "if" clauses have stative verbs this kind of construction is possible.
This will be proved by the unacceptability of the following sentence using
action verbs like "visit" in "if" clauses:
(5)* If they invited her to the conference, she would have attended.
However, the following sentences are strange if not unacceptable even though
there are stative verbs in "if" clauses:
(6) If I were more careful, I would not have been hit by a truck.
(7) If I had one more dollar, I could have bought the bag.
It seems to me that this is the problem about permanence or temporariness in
"if" clauses. When "if" clauses express permanence , the construction under
discussion is possible. On the other hand, when "if" clauses express
temporariness, the construction is not possible.

>From this principle, sentence (8) below seems to be acceptable.
(8) If he weren't such a terrible bore, we'd certainly have visited him
more often while he was here.
However, I have found the following examples in American novels, which are
counterexamples to my principle :
(9) She was so high-keyed that if she smoked she would have been a chain
(10) He would have gone right into your bedroom if I didn't stop him.
(11) If she were working for Bill, he would have protected her with a
reasonably plausible story.
I would like to know the acceptability of examples (8)--(11).
With best wishes and thanks in advance.

Kenji Kashino
Professor of English Linguistics
Osaka Shoin Women's University, Japan

LL Issue: 14.3084
Date posted: 11-Nov-2003


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