This is a text about elderly people. Two persons wear makeup to look like old people and to understand what it's like to be old. after this experiment one of them said this.

They were talking about real things and I felt unqualified. I didn't have that life experience. They had been through so much. It made me realize how ignorant I was. It was as if I was seeing the young people inside them.Before I would have just seen the wrinkles.

I can't understand the meaning and what grammar this is?

  • The last sentence would make more sense with a comma in it: "Before, I would have just seen the wrinkles."
    – SteveES
    Apr 11, 2017 at 16:27

1 Answer 1


An unreal conditional:

If I had understood the grammar, I would have explained it to you. First verb: past perfect, Second verb: past conditional.

In your sentence, the first part is assummed, it is not spoken, it would look like this:

[If I had not done this experiment of putting on make-up to look like an old person], I would have just seen the wrinkles. [and not how they are real people].

Just seen means: only seen old people as people with wrinkles and not as "great" people in their own right.

In English, we often imply the first part of an unreal conditional and do not state it clearly,

  • I think OP's precise context doesn't actually refer to an "unreal" situation. It's more like On Friday nights I would go to the pub - referencing habitual action in the past. Apr 11, 2017 at 16:29
  • The OP's question is most definitely UNREAL: If, in the past, I had tried to understand what old people were, I would have [verb: ]. That is the implied grammar here. There is no habitual action in the past. It's an IF situation. It's a one off deal imagined by the speaker. In that sense, it is unreal. Thank you for your attention.
    – Lambie
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:42
  • 2
    My recollection is you don't take kindly to people disagreeing with you here, so there's probably not much point in me posting this. But it seems pretty obvious to me that OP's writer had interacted with older people before realising how ignorant he was, and therefore he did just see the wrinkles. To all intents and purposes, that final sentence is semantically equivalent to I just saw the wrinkles before. Apr 11, 2017 at 17:52
  • Thank you. should it have a comma after ''Before''? ''Before, I would have just seen the wrinkles."
    – Masih K
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:57
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks. we use would for habitual action in the past- can we use ''would have'' for that, too?
    – Masih K
    Apr 11, 2017 at 18:01

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