If I start using the conditional to talk about repeated actions or habits, do I have to maintain it during the whole recount or can I switch to simple past in the next sentences?

He would turn up at the gallery, saying he had just been in the neighborhood, and she would pretend to believe him and invite him for coffee or lunch. If she happened to be busy, Michael would occupy/occupied himself by admiring the paintings. Or he would take/took one of the books from the shelf...

  • I think you want account, not recount: recount is used as a noun only as a derivative of the sense "count again", not of the sense "narrate". Feb 20, 2017 at 11:28
  • The dictionaries have both meanings. (dictionary.com/browse/recount) But maybe one is more idiomatic than the other. Thanks!
    – Viviana
    Feb 21, 2017 at 3:18
  • 1
    Check again: the verb has both meanings, the noun only one. Feb 21, 2017 at 3:31
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    Note, by the way, that the woulds in this passage are not 'conditional' but 'habitual'. Feb 21, 2017 at 3:38
  • Only this dictionary disagrees. But I believe you. en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/recount
    – Viviana
    Feb 21, 2017 at 3:47

2 Answers 2


You are not required to employ the same construction in both consequence clauses, but it's a good idea to do so. Shifting the construction confuses your reader and sets her to wondering what nuance of meaning the shift implies.


I disagree with StoneyB on this one. You're describing a collection of events all prefaced by "if". It is split into several sentences, but all of it is based on the conditional.

Had "when" been used instead of "if", it's usage with a past tense description of the condition ("when she happened to be busy"), would make it a narrative about past events. Sometimes she was busy and sometimes she wasn't. On those past occasions when she was, this is what happened.

"If" describes a rule to apply to future events. Combining that with a past tense description of the condition changes the perspective of the narration. It describes events as if they haven't happened yet; taking the reader back in time to before the event and explaining from that vantage point what would happen in case the "if" condition is true. You can't use past tense for any of what is based on the "if" since you're describing things that haven't happened yet (in the timeframe of the story).

So it should be "would occupy" and "would take".

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