I want to link the logic of some event in the future with some event in the past.

"If the shop worked tomorrow, the owner would have come back yesterday."

Is it proper English? If it is, then what about the next sentence?

"If I didn’t call the police, the murderer might have got away"

Is it correct, if I am talking about the past? Or should I use the past perfect "If I had not called the police" ?

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    This is good: If I had not called the police, the murderer might have gotten away. We can also help you with "the shop worked" when we understand what you are trying to say there. Maybe if the shop was expected to open tomorrow, the owner would have..." – Yosef Baskin Jul 18 '17 at 14:25
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    I'm not sure about your first sentence b/c I don't understand exactly what you are trying to do with your passage. But the second sentence is fine. The main difference is the version you have is UK English using "got away". North American English typically uses "gotten" for past events. Got is used in the US and NA but it's typically for a present tense usage (like: I've got something). – Kace36 Jul 19 '17 at 0:14
  • Your first example needs to be in present tense: "If the shop opens tomorrow, the owner will have come back yesterday." (Parallel to the Wikipedia example "If it rains tomorrow, we will have worked in vain yesterday.") – Peter Shor Jul 26 '17 at 11:39
  • @PeterShor The Wikipedia example is about a situation that's not counterfactual, whereas the first sentence in this question describes a situation which most probably is. The shop owner didn't come back yesterday, and in order to, for example, determine whether the shop will be open tomorrow, you observe the aforementioned fact and assert that the owner would've come back yesterday if the shop were to open tomorrow (but the shop won't open since the owner didn't come (= counterfactual)). – user3395 Jul 28 '17 at 12:51
  • @userr2684291: I agree. But there is nothing in the question saying that it's counterfactual (other than the mangled conditional, which seems to have been written by somebody learning English and from which I don't think we can conclude anything). I assumed that we didn't know whether the shop owner came back yesterday or not. Why are you assuming that we know? – Peter Shor Jul 28 '17 at 13:02

It's possible to relate past and future in all kinds of interesting and creative ways:

If the lights in her house are on this evening, she came home last night.

If my team wins this weekend then their star player must have recovered from his injury.

And other variations on the "if ... then" logical format.

Your second example is correct. In AmE, be aware that "gotten" is often used as the perfect tense of "got"

If I didn't call the police, the murderer might have got/gotten away.

The past perfect is fine too:

If I hadn't called the police ...

  • I'm sorry, I DVed. The reason is I don't understand how creative if this If the lights in her house are on this evening, she came home last night. sentence could be. Isn't it "she would've come home last night"?? – user17814 Jan 13 '18 at 4:46
  • @KentaroTomono Certainly that's one way to say it. But by using those tenses in that way, I imply additional information about what I expected, and what I knew to be true, and various other things. That's what I mean by "get creative". The listener can assume that I know her schedule and typical behavior -- for example, that I knew she was away, and that her lights are usually off when she's away. Also (for whatever reason) I know she's likely to come home late in the evening. I'm sure you can be equally creative in your own native language. – Andrew Jan 13 '18 at 7:16
  • I understand what you are trying to say, but it sounds very "too creative". And isn't it grammatically incorrect? If the lights in her house are on this evening, she came home last night. The problem of this sentence is, you are using this in the in clause, which means now, but since you are using last night in the subordinate clause, it means yesterday. So unfortunately I think you were not able to create what you intended IMO.. – user17814 Jan 13 '18 at 8:54
  • @KentaroTomono Try this instead: "If we see a red lamp on the tallest tower at sunset this evening, our spies got safely into the castle last night." Not an unusual phrase for a fictional novel. – Andrew Jan 13 '18 at 16:05

"If the shop were going to open tomorrow, the owner would have come back yesterday."

"If I hadn't called the police, the murderer might have got(ten) away."

Both of your examples are in the subjunctive mood. In the protasis of the first example, "were going to open" would work best. In the protasis of your second example, you have to use "hadn't called" because "didn't call" talks about present time:

"If I didn't call the police (right now), the murderer might get away."

Also, your "might have got" is fine; it's more British in style. Most American speakers would say "might have gotten", but your example is not wrong.

I hope that might have helped you understand the concept. Take care and good luck.

  • Are they "subjunctive"?? – user17814 Jan 6 '18 at 13:06
  • Yes, they are all subjunctive forms. "If the shop were going to open" is sometimes called the future subjunctive in English; "If I hadn't called" is the past perfect subjunctive; and If I didn't call" is the past subjunctive. In an older form of English, the present subjunctive was also used after "if", i.e. "If the shop open", but in Modern English, it's usually either, "If the shop opens" or "If the shop should open" ("should" forecloses the present subjunctive). It could also be written, "Should the shop open". – Nick Jan 6 '18 at 16:52
  • You could still use the present subjunctive such as "If the shop open" in Modern English, but it would just sound a little archaic. It's not even in the same ballpark though as something like "thou" as it has only recently fallen into disuse. Some famous authors still to this day use it every now and then, particularly with the verb "to be". Check out my article about it at this link: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/152463/…. – Nick Jan 6 '18 at 16:55

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