someone has a lyrics for the song and I discussed its plot and probable outcome

sentence (mixed):

It would be great song If it hadn't had such lyrics (but, in fact, it has)


(second conditional + third conditional)

a condition clause (protasis) has an impact on the present state (it would be great NOW)

a consequence clause (apodosis) couldn't be undone and it was in the past

2 Answers 2


This conditional construction employs a ‘past perfect’ (had had) in the condition clause (protasis) as an irrealis to express the counterfactuality of that past eventuality, and a ‘past’ (would be) in the consequence clause (apodosis) to express the same counterfactuality in the present eventuality. This would be appropriate in this sort of situation:

He would be a rich man today if the song hadn’t had such an inadequate lyric.

That is, if the song had had a better lyric back then it would have sold much better over the years down to the present.

But in your example I don’t think it's the past inadequacy that makes the song less than great today: that’s caused by the fact that it still has those lyrics. Consequently I think what you want is an irrealis past in both clauses:

It would be a great song if it didn’t have such an inadequate lyric.

Incidentally, in actual grammatical studies we don't use the terms 'first, second, third conditional'—these are just teaching tools which don't represent any linguistic reality. You've clearly outgrown them, and you can discard them freely.

  • Thanks. Your example with the past simple isn't really appropriate - (it didn’t have such an inadequate lyric) . It didn’t have such an inadequate lyric yesterday- then it fits the occasion, but in my example, I conveyed the general meaning of possession, when It always has got some state
    – Max
    Mar 26, 2017 at 1:06
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    @Max But the 'past simple' doesn't express tense here, it expresses irrealis modality. If it was an adequate lyric yesterday but is now inadequate you want the past form -- if it didn't have. Mar 26, 2017 at 2:12
  • I've read the whole explanation one more time and grasp it. Please, tell me then, in what occasion I can use past perfect (third conditional protasis). It would be great song If it hadn't had such lyrics (but, in fact, it has)
    – Max
    Mar 26, 2017 at 2:23
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    Oh, dear; that's a tough one to imagine a context for. You need some unusual meaning for great (which is usually a permanent category), or some unusual characteristic for the lyrics (which are usually a permanent component). Perhaps something like "God Save the Tsar would be a great song if the lyrics hadn't celebrated the Romanovs; but it's merely a resounding melody." Mar 26, 2017 at 2:40
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    @Max Celebrate here means approximately to honor: the lyric expressed the honor and glory of the Romanovs. Hadn't had in the protasis expresses a past counterfactual; you can't use it in the apodosis because the apodosis requires a modal verb. Mar 26, 2017 at 3:04

"It has a good melody, but I don't like the lyrics" would be the sentence you want, because what you like is the melody, and not the lyrics.

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