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The 1st context is,

My family and I ate a delicious dinner yesterday. Today my sister asks me whether I ate that spicy fish dish. I tell her that I didn't even thought about eating it, and I made an unconscious decision not to eat it. Then I explain to her that I have a problem eating fish. Does the modal pattern in the following dialog fit this context?

"Did you eat it?", "If I ate that spicy fish dish yesterday, it would choke me." (Note: This is a past, real conditional.)

The 2nd context is,

My family and I ate a delicious dinner yesterday. Today my sister asks me whether I ate that spicy fish dish. I tell her that I was hesitating over whether or not to eat it. I like spicy food, but I had an upset stomach that time, so I quited. Does the modal pattern in the following dialog fit this context?

"Did you eat it?", "If I had eaten that spicy fish dish yesterday, it would have choke me." (Note: This is a past, unreal conditional.)

The 3rd context is,

My family and I ate a delicious dinner last month. Today one of my friends asks me whether I ate that spicy fish dish at that time, I tell her that I don't quite remember eating it, but I remember I just ate the dishes before me. Does the modal pattern in the following dialog fit this context?

"Did you eat it?", "If I ate that spicy fish dish, it would have been in front of me." (Note: This is a past, real conditional.)

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I would say that using the past real conditional doesn't make sense here. Because you already chose not to eat it. The past real conditional, however, is possible in report speech, i.e. you can report it like this: She asked me that ... Then I told her that ... –  Damkerng T. Mar 23 at 10:29
    
I told her that if I ate that spicy fish dish yesterday it would choke me. Or, I told her that if I had eaten that spicy fish dish yesterday it would have choke me? I mean context 1. –  Zhanlong Zheng Mar 23 at 10:35
    
I don't know whether the first two context I contrived could make any difference to the “if + would” constructions. –  Zhanlong Zheng Mar 23 at 10:42
    
"Did you eat it?" implies that she is asking you now. Usually, the past unreal conditional is used when you want to talk about something habitual in the past. So, in your case (context 1), it's actually the present real conditional ("Do you want to eat it?" "If I eat it, it will choke me."), and it could look like the past condition in indirect speech when you report it: I told her that if I ate that spicy fish dish yesterday, it would choke me. –  Damkerng T. Mar 23 at 11:00

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Only the second of your sentences is correct.

At the table, you have this conversation with your mother:

MOM: Are you going to try the fish?
YOU: If I eat it it will choke me. ... non-past, real
MOM: Oh, go on, try it!
YOU: Mom, I’m not going to eat it. If I ate it, it would choke me, and you’d have a horrible mess to clean up. … non-past, unreal

The next day you have this conversation with your sister:

SIS: Did you try Mom’s spicy fish?
YOU: No, I told her that if I ate it it would choke me. ... past, real (backshifted)
SIS: Oh, Zheng, you’re so mean to her!
YOU: But I was just telling her the truth. if I had eaten it it would have choked me. … past, unreal
SIS: Did you at least try the chicken?
YOU: Hmm, I don’t remember. Was it at my end of the table? If it was in front of me, I ate it. Except the fish. … past, real
SIS: No, it was at our end. I think Dad gobbled it all up.
YOU: Then I didn’t have a chance to try it. But if it had been in front of me I would have eaten it. … past, unreal
SIS: Then I guess you didn’t eat the beef, either, because that was at our end, too.
YOU: No, that’s wrong. I did eat the beef. I only ate what was in front of me, so if I ate the beef it must have been in front of me. … past, real, inferential
SIS: No, it’s you who’re wrong. Because I remember now, Dad went up and fetched the beef back to our end, so you wouldn’t hog it all.
YOU: This is ridiculous.

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This is ingenious! I like the way the answer was interwoven as dialogues. –  Damkerng T. Mar 23 at 12:06
    
+1, I extremely liked your way of explaining the OP –  Hakan Mar 23 at 12:13
    
+1 This might become a go-to post for future conditional questions :) –  oerkelens Mar 23 at 12:32
    
Brilliant! I spent two hours in working out these scenarios. Now I see what have puzzled me. In your dialog, "If it was in front of me" indicates that I am not sure whether I ate it or not. But I think "If I ate the beef it must have been in front of me." is another story because I know I ate it and there are no uncertainties. Plz help me clarify. @StoneyB –  Zhanlong Zheng Mar 23 at 13:04
    
@ZhanlongZheng The line between 'unreal' and 'real' is fuzzy; but if you hold a proposition to be an 'open possibility' you use the 'real' construction. The only relevant uncertainty is handled by the if and need not be expressed in the verb form. If the sides are 3 and 4, the hypotenuse is 5 is true, regardless of what the actual lengths are, or whether you know what the lengths are. –  StoneyB Mar 23 at 13:25

I think you want to go with unreal here, the second option, since it has no affect on you now. At least, it's what makes the most sense to my ear.

Also, 'choke' has to be 'choked' in past perfect.

'If I had eaten that spicy fish dish yesterday, it would have choke*d* me.'

The first one, 'it would choke me', sounds like it still can affect you. You didn't eat it, and are living with the consequences, as opposed to still being able to affect the outcome of that decision.

The third one is set up in consequence-action, which doesn't make sense. You want to say, 'If it had been in front of me, I would have eaten it.' This is action-consequence, which is much more straightforward to understand.

'First it was placed in front of me, then I ate it' makes more sense than 'I ate it, and it was placed in front of me before this.' Of course, this should be a conditional instead.

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