I was reading an English textbook, in which it is given some examples of "the subjunctive mood". Here is one:

If only Tessa had been here yesterday.

I am unable to understand why they use past perfect, instead of past simple:

If only Tessa was here yesterday.

Am I missed something? Why one should use past perfect instead of past simple, when there is no any chronological confusion.


1 Answer 1


This has the form of a past perfect, but it is not actually a past perfect.

Keep in mind that the so-called "past tense" form of a verb has two uses: it may express actual past tense OR irrealis ("unreal") modality.

But the "past tense" form cannot express both of these: an irrealis "past tense" form expresses present unreality:

If Tessa were here now, she would say the same thing.

If you want to cast this in the past tense, you've already used up the "past tense" form to express unreality, so you have to find something extra to express the pastness. What we use in English is the "past perfect" construction, in which the perfect construction expresses an irrealis past:

If Tessa had been here then, she would have said the same thing.

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