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Imagine the following situation: We had been on a hiking trip for 3 weeks and I suggest about having any water as a possession.

Sentences:

If we had no water, we would die. (second conditional: an imagined situation because we have water)

OR

If we hadn't had any water, we would die. (condition clause expressed by past perfect tense because of discussion about past events; the conclusion clause refers to a present outcome (dying) and suggestion is imagined)

Question:

When should I use the past simple in a conditional statement? and when should I use the past perfect?

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    In order to answer this question, we need to know exactly the chronological order of all the events that you are describing. It's very confusing to know if you are speaking about events at the present or in the past. To prove what I mean: "We had been in the hiking travel for 3 weeks" and "because of discussion about past events" indicate that the hiking is in the past, however, "and I suggest about having any water as a possession" and "imagined situation because we have water" indicate event at the present. Please edit your question so that time is logical before expecting spot-on answers. – Gerry Apr 23 '17 at 20:13
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    Also please be clear and explicit about your question. Are you asking about the general usage of past perfect and past simple in the conditional clause (in which case I would suggest you do a little research first and tell us what you learn so far) or are you asking which tense to use for your specific context (in which case the "when" in your question does not make sense). – Gerry Apr 23 '17 at 20:23
  • @Gerry I've just corrected. I added the word 'when'. If it isn't clear, please describe when using of each of tense willl be appropriate. Nevertheless, if you asked about sequence of events, on imagine situation it doesn't have any impact, for the past perfect- I agree it does, then, please give me an example when past perfect is a right usage. Thank you for your concern. I hope it will help – Max Apr 23 '17 at 20:26
  • Imagine situation: I have water and I suggested about possible outcome if I didn't have water Past perfect case: I have water and I suggested about possible outcome if I didn't have water - (The same case) – Max Apr 23 '17 at 20:37
  • I assume you mean that you had water; the hiking event is something that happened in the past. – Gerry Apr 23 '17 at 20:39
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+50

We had been in the hiking travel for 3 weeks and I suggest about having any water as a possession... If we had no water we would die... OR... If we hadn't had any water we would die... When should I use past perfect in the condition clause or past simple tense?

Ok. Those are two different questions. The answer to first is neither. The first is hypothetical but implies you already have water and that it doesn't need to be suggested. The second is ungrammatical since the tenses of its clauses don't match. The second question is pretty broad but we can cover the basics.

You can't change the past, so conditionals that look like the past tense are actually thinking about how things could be different. That contrary-to-fact idea kicks everything into the subjunctive mood. It usually looks like the simple past although it's talking about an alternate reality for the present.

If we had water, we wouldn't die.

We don't have any water and, because of that, we will die.

If we had water, we wouldn't be dying.

We do not have any water and, because of that, we are already beginning to die.

If we had water, we wouldn't be dead.

Same as before, but more pessimistic. You can't actually speak once you are actually dead, but it's a common English hyperbole to say "I'm dead...", "I'm so dead...", &c. in seriously unpleasant situations. It's of a piece with expressions like "Mom's going to kill me when she finds out..." Here, though, it's rather literal and looks at death as the inevitable outcome of having no water. It's a form of the future tense that skips over using will, similar to "John leaves tomorrow".

If we had had water, we wouldn't be dying.

(American): If we'd've had water, we wouldn't be dying.

We did not bring (any/enough) water earlier and now we are dying. I'm thinking about how things could have been different, a contrary-to-fact idea that kicks everything into the subjunctive mood. Since the subjunctive usually looks like the simple past, you have to use the pluperfect ("past perfect") to talk about the actual past.

If we hadn't had water, we would have died.

(via @userr2684291): If we hadn't had any water, we'd be dead.

We did bring some water, so we didn't die of dehydration as we otherwise would have.

Having read through your comments, I think this is what you were really getting at, but I'm still not sure. You clarified that you're looking for a counterfactual statement but still are vague about the timing of the event and the statement.

If we had had water, we wouldn't have been dying.

We did not bring (any/enough) water earlier and we began to die. It didn't actually happen, though, and we're safe now... especially since I'm never going camping with you again, you hydrophobic bastard.

If we had had water, we wouldn't have died.

This is just weird. It states we are, in fact, already dead because of our previous lack of water. Unless you're talking about a game or to a Hindu, it may indicate the person suffers from some form of depersonalization disorder. Conditionals of the form "If we have/had water, then we didn't die", suffer from the same problem given the subject matter. They suggest someone is looking for a way to verify whether they're deceased or not.

If we had no water, we'd be dying.

If we didn't have water, we would be dying.

We do have water. We're not dying. I'd just like to point out how important our water is so that you will finally shut up about having to carry it. Things could be worse. The pluperfect ("past perfect") form works the same way, but talks about the importance of our earlier possession of water.

Now: I mentioned that the subjunctive usually looks like the simple past. The major exception is that was turns into were, which shows up in expressions like if I were you... That doesn't affect we so much but it has led to some set phrases that show up in conditionals:

If we were to have water, we would not die.

Were we to have water, we wouldn't die.

We don't have (=possess) or aren't having (=drinking) water at the moment or in the scenario under discussion, but it's available. In the alternate realities where we have (=either sense) water, we don't die. That may be a serious risk at the moment or in that situation you mentioned. It's probably a good idea to make this one of those other realities by actually getting and/or drinking some water. "If we were having water..." only covers the drinking sense, which isn't what you mean.

Side note: Some speakers of ESL will use continuous forms like had been having water but they don't work with the sense of have meaning "be in possession of; own; be able to access freely". In that sense, have is a stative verb. Treating it like one that isn't kicks it over into its sense of "consuming; using up; eating or drinking" which isn't what you mean here.

"If we'd have water...", an alternative to "If we had water..." in American English, is similarly limited by its phrasing to the "drinking" sense of have.

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    What an excellent answer! Having said that, could you also, for the sake of completeness, include this example, together with an expanded explanation (building on "works the same way, but..." – maybe this is sufficient, but a more realized example would be superb IMO): If we hadn't had water, we would be dying. Furthermore, what do you say about If we hadn't had any water, we would be dead? To my nonnative ear, this would be the best way to say it. Also, I'm not sure how useful it is to always accompany pluperfect with the explanation of what it is in parentheses. – userr2684291 Apr 24 '17 at 14:00
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    @userr2684291 Thanks for the kind words and very good points yourself. I added the gloss to pluperfect because it was OP's term and one increasingly used in the field, although I still prefer pluperfect; I did it each time since it's a long post. – lly Apr 24 '17 at 14:14
  • @userr2684291 you are right – Max Apr 24 '17 at 19:31
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conditional_sentence#Second_conditional

This is used for hypothetical, counterfactual situations in a present or future time frame (where the condition expressed is known to be false or is presented as unlikely).

if + past tense + would + 1st form of verb

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conditional_sentence#Third_conditional

This is used to refer to hypothetical, counterfactual (or believed likely to be counterfactual) situations in the past.

if + had + would have + 3rd form of verb

EXAMPLE OF USAGE:

Day 1 Start hiking

Day 3 Hiking

SECOND CONDITIONAL (present situation where the condition is known to be false)

If we didn't have water we would die.

OR

If we had no water we would die.

Day 5 Finish hiking

Day 7 Back at home

THIRD CONDITIONAL (a hypothetical situation in the past)

If we hadn't had water we would have died.

OR

If we had had no water we would have died.

0

"If we hadn't (have) had any water, we would have died. (Most native speakers would add the "have" in parentheses when speaking informally)

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