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(The situation: The Town Council is considering to demolish the old city park.)

Which of the following questions is "more correct"?

What would happened if this park was demolished?

What would have happened if this park had been demolished?

I am not sure.

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1  
Given the situation, I think the first conditional may fit better because it's likely that the Town Council will demolish it: what will happen if this park is demolished? –  Fantasier May 29 at 18:46
    
@Fantasier: Thank you very much. I does fit better to the given situation. –  cherry8.8vanilla May 29 at 18:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Neither sentence is acceptable.

The first is grammatically unacceptable.

  • The modal auxiliary would must take an infinitive as its complement:

    What would happen ...

  • And in formal use the verb in the condition clause should take the irrealis form, since would in the then clause is irrealis:

    ... if the park were demolished.

    (However, was is acceptable in non-formal use.)

The second is semantically unacceptable in the circumstances you describe. The past perfect in the conditional clause and the irrealis modal past in the consequence clause mark this as a question about the past, not the future: you are asking about the past consequences of a past demolition, which would only be acceptable if you were indulging in historical speculation.

You have two choices:

a. What will happen if the park is demolished? or
b. What would happen if the park were demolished?

These both ask about the future consquences of a future demolition. The only difference between them is the speaker's attitude toward the demolition: in a. she thinks it quite possible that the park will be demolished and wants to know the likely consequences, whereas in b. she thinks it unlikely that that the park will be demolished but is curious about the hypothetical consequences.

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There is an error in the first sentence. It should be:

What would happen if this park was demolished?

or

What would happen if this park were demolished?

The 'were' is a traditional English subjunctive that is falling out of fashion, but does not change the meaning of the sentence here.

This first pair of sentences asks about a future hypothetical event -- the future demolition of the park.

By contrast, the following question asks about a past hypothetical (or 'counterfactual' event) event -- the past demolition of the park, an event which never happened but is being considered for discussion.

What would have happened if this park had been demolished?

Another difference is that the last question is asking about past, present, or future consequences, whereas the first pair of questions is asking about present or future consequences alone.

For this reason, the last sentence can be answered with the following, but the first two could not be:

The walking path would not have been constructed.

In other words, because the park was NOT demolished, it was possible to construct a walking path (and the construction actually took place.)

If the question was instead present/future directed, it would look like this:

What would happen if this park had been demolished?

The above 'answer' would be inappropriate to this question. Instead, you could answer like this:

We would be able to build the condo.

The question "What would happen if this park had been demolished?" is an unusual form and the only difference as compared to "What would happen if this park was demolished?" is that the demolition of the park, at the time of asking the question, is presented as unlikely or impossible.

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