[i] If he had stayed in the army he would have become a colonel. [remote]

[ii] If he stayed in the army he will have become a colonel. [open]

In [ii] the possible staying in the army and the consequential becoming a colonel are in past time, whereas in [i] only the former necessarily is: the becoming a colonel is simply subsequent to staying in the army and this includes the case where it is still in the future.

(The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p203)

We’ll have lived here for ten years by next July. (Angela Downing, English Grammar, p360)

Consulting Downing’s example, I guess [ii]’s becoming a colonel could include the futurity, when time adjunct is added. As in: “Call me in the morning and I’ll have selected your living quarters.(Invisible Man)”. Is this right, or does [ii] by itself include the futurity?

  • 2
    Hmmm. I wouldn't presume to say that your grammar book is wrong, because I'm sure there are a lot of usages I'm not familiar with. But [ii] sounds completely wrong to me, and I can't understand the explanation being given. [i] makes perfect sense to me; if in the past he had chosen to stay in the army, at some point between that past time and point X (which could be now, before now, on in the future from now) he would have become a colonel. That sounds great. But I'm not getting [ii] at all. Stayed and will have become don't match for me at all, and I don't see how it thinks will is
    – WendiKidd
    Nov 16, 2013 at 19:06
  • 1
    past tense there. If I heard this sentence I would be unable to interpret it (much as I am having difficulty doing so now). I would probably assume they meant would instead of will and ignore what would seem to me to be a mistake. So... Not saying it's wrong, but... It definitely doesn't make sense to me. The only similar thing I can think of would be something like this: "Do you think John will decide to go to college or stay in the army?" "I don't know... If he stayed in the army he will have become a colonel by the time he's 30." But this isn't past tense, it's talking about the future.
    – WendiKidd
    Nov 16, 2013 at 19:07
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    (And in that last example, stayed is a bit forced... I interpret it as If he were to choose to stay = If he stayed, but I think it would actually be more likely to just say "If he stays..." since it hasn't happened yet. So even that is a stretch, and it requires the timeline (at least to me); you have to say something like "X will have happened by the time Y happens." I find this question very, very interesting... I look forward to seeing what others have to say on the subject!
    – WendiKidd
    Nov 16, 2013 at 19:11

3 Answers 3


Profs. Hufflepuff are making this appear more complicated than it is.

  • [i] involves an irrealis in a past-tense conditional, where the WILL form indicates both subsequence and consequence.

    If he stays in the Army he will become a colonel.

    PAST REALIS or PRESENT IRREALIS (you can only tell from context):
    If he stayed in the Army he would become a colonel.

    If he had stayed in the Army he would have become a colonel.

  • [ii], however, doesn’t involve subsequence at all, it’s pure consequence: an epistemic WILL:

    A: "Some guy just walked in without knocking and went into the kitchen."
    B: "Oh, that will be my roommate Sam, it's OK."

    The sense of [ii] is that a past contingency necessarily has a present result.

    If he did stay in the Army it's a virtual certainty that he has become a Colonel by now.

  • Note that the would have become in [i] is what I have elsewhere (2.3) called a ‘modal sham perfect’, while the will have become in [ii] is a genuine modal perfect.

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    I think it might be useful to see constructions like your example B in terms of when the unfolding reality becomes clear [in the immediate future]. To my mind, even though the thing being spoken of is in the past or present, the point in time where everyone knows for sure [who it is, what happened, etc.] lies in the future. Sam's roommate would have to use present or past tense if he'd actually seen who it was at the time, because then it wouldn't be possible to rephrase his words as [if we look into it,] that will turn out to have been Sam. Nov 16, 2013 at 22:25
  • @StoneyB, Your description makes me to solve the mysterious word, existential, in CGEL:"The existential or experiential perfect indicates the existence of past events: it asserts that at least one instance of the eventuality named by VERB occurs prior to Reference Time."source. I always get the impression that your words are tinged with psychology, even though they are dealing with linguistic, grammar issues.
    – Listenever
    Nov 17, 2013 at 3:48

I don't see [ii] as implying or suggesting futurity; the past tense stayed rules that out, in my opinion.

The only scenario I've thought of in which [ii] is grammatically sound reflects lack of knowledge, as illustrated in the following dialogue between Alice and Bob.

Alice: What ever became of Private O'Donnel?
Bob: If he stayed in the Army he will have become a Colonel.


I agree with StoneyB. However, he left out the proper form to actually express what you suggest. The thing is, you do have to specify a certain time in the future to make the construction sensible: If he stays in the army three more years, he will have become a colonel [by then].

So, IIUC, the really short answer to your title question is: YES

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