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Since I'm studying another language, I found a translation of the conditional into this sentence:
"If he was able to catch the bus, he won't be late."
Is this correct? Shouldn't it be
"If he was able to catch the bus, he wouldn't be late."

  • What makes you think that? You should edit your question to include in more detail what you think is wrong about the version you found. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 30 '16 at 20:30
  • @JanusBahsJacquet What do you mean "in more detail"? I'm just asking if the sentence I found is grammatically correct. – Alex Oct 30 '16 at 20:35
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    What do we mean by "in more detail"? Well, for starts, ... Why do you think it wouldn't be correct? Was it written by a non-native speaker? What language are you studying? What do you mean by "the conditional"? What was the original sentence you translated? And, by the way, what do you mean by "correct" (you'd be amazed at the ideas some people have)? FYI, both those sentences are completely grammatical in English, but they don't mean the same thing. – John Lawler Oct 30 '16 at 20:45
  • "Why do you think it wouldn't be correct?" Because I don't think I've ever seen the past simple being used in the if-clause and the future simple being used in the main clause. "Was it written by a non-native speaker?" No, since the book was written for English learners. "What language are you studying?" I'm learning Tagalog language. "What do you mean by "the conditional"?" Sorry, I actually meant only the main clause of the sentence there. "What was the original sentence you translated?" I didn't translate it, the book did. By the way, why the first is correct? And what does it mean then? – Alex Oct 30 '16 at 21:14
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    Yes, it's grammatically correct if the bus should have been caught in order that he can arrive in time (which is expected, but hasn't happened yet); that is, if the bus journey is still in progress and the catching is in the past with the "being late" still to happen. – Andrew Leach Oct 30 '16 at 21:39
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If he was able to catch the bus, he will not be late. 
If he were able the catch the bus, he would not be late. 

The clause "he was able to catch the bus" is a past-tense indicative clause.  The clause "he will not be late" is a future-tense* indicative clause.  The two clauses work well together because they have the same mode. 

With an indicative "if" clause, we have no idea whether he was able to catch the bus. 

The clause "he were able to catch the bus"** is a subjunctive clause.  The clause "he would not be late" is also subjunctive.  The tense of each these two clauses is unclear.  Still, the two clauses work well together because they have the same mode. 

With a subjunctive "if" clause, we assume that he was not or is not able to catch the bus.  Consequently, he is not or will not be on time. 

 

If he was able to catch the bus, he would not be late. 

This is confusing.  The conditional proposition is in the indicative mode.  The conditional consequence seems to be in the subjunctive.  To my ear, it doesn't make sense for the result to be subjunctive while its cause is indicative.  It's like saying that we don't know whether the cause happened but we do know that the effect didn't happen, despite the lack of effect implying a lack of cause. 

It is possible (although far from likely in my dialect) that the "would" in this sentence is a past-tense form instead of a subjunctive form. Alternatives like "If he was able to catch the bus, he didn't intend to be late" or "Whenever he was able to catch the bus, he would not be late" might better represent the same sentiment. 
 

The subjunctive mode in contemporary English is a mess.  I'm given to understand that many other languages have subjunctive modes that are clearer and more consistent.  If you're lucky, Tagalog will turn out to be one of those. 

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* Technically, this is a present-tense form with a future-tense meaning, but let's not split semantic hairs.

** Without the "if", this clause in this word order doesn't make sense.  Old-fashioned dialects might use "were he able to catch the bus".  Modern dialects seem to prefer "if he were able to catch the bus". 

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