If I will write an instruction for passport holders about what to do in case a passport is already expired using an if conditional, will using if...had be wrong?

If your passport had expired, you would have to renew.

Based on what I understood so far, if...had (past perfect tense) is used for past-unreal construction. So using had is good if it is not true that the passport is already expired. But what if it is possible that the passport is already expired? Would this sentence be correct?

If your passport has expired, you would have to renew.

I thought about using has expired (present perfect tense) since it's possible that the passport expired some time in the past and until now it is still expired. If this is correct, since it's not past-unreal because it uses present perfect tense, what will it be called?

There is also a simple past version:

If your passport expired, you would have to renew.

However, this could also refer to a passport that expired at least once in the past (e.g. expired some time in the past but renewed and not expired anymore in the present).

It is possible that there are better alternative sentences but I would like and need help to analyze the sentences I gave to see if they can work without the need to rephrase them. If there is no choice but to rephrase them, then I would love to see the alternative.

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure if I quite understand you correctly, so this answer may be very tentative, but basically there are two clauses to think about: the first one (if your passport __ expired) and the second one (you ___ have to renew). To be completely fluent, the two have to match in a way that makes sense.

If we begin with the past perfect "If your passport had expired", an English speaker is going to see the past perfect and say "Oh, we are talking about a past event that occurred before another past event", so they are going to expect to see a past-tense hypothetical. I would want to continue the sentence "...you would have had to renew it." (This is a Type 3 Conditional.) But we don't really care about a past event before another past event, we care about a past event before right now.

If we begin with the present perfect "If your passport has expired", then we are talking about a hypothetical in the present, so I would expect "...you will (or would) have to renew it." (This is a Type 1 Conditional.)

The simple past "If your passport expired" also puts the passport-expiration entirely in the past, but it's my least favorite option because it's the least clear about the sequence of events. (This is a Type 2 Conditional.)

Since you're writing instructions, I would say to make things as simple as possible: "If your passport has expired, you will need to renew it." Has expired makes it clear that we're talking about the effects of a past event on the present, and the simple future will need to is the usual way of expressing a Type 1 Conditional about a possible condition and its result.

Conditional : http://www.ef.edu/english-resources/english-grammar/conditional/


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