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I would've loved it if I had a mind as brilliant as Stephen Hawking's.

I would love it if I had a mind as brilliant as Stephen Hawking's.

Does the first sentence mean I don't have a mind as brilliant as Stephen Hawking's, but if I did, I would've loved it (in the past)? Or I haven't/didn't love it because my mind isn't as brilliant as Stephen Hawking's?

Does the second sentence mean, I don't have a mind as brilliant as Stephen Hawking's, but if I did I would love it (in the present)? Or, I don't love it because my mind isn't as brilliant as Stephen Hawking's?

And in both cases I don't/didn't love it, probably implies the speaker would/would've liked to have a mind more like Stephen Hawking's.

Isn't the second sentence grammatically more accurate?

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The second sentence leaves open the possibility that the antecedent is true (even if, in the real world, we may think that unlikely).

The first sentence does not: it assumes that the antecedent does not hold. (This is known as a counter-factual or irrealis conditional).

Compare a case where the antecedent is materially possible:

I would love it if the moon were full.

(This means that it might be)

I would have loved it if the moon were full.

(Some would prefer "If the moon had been full" as a clearer alternative; but either way, it strongly implies that the moon isn't/wasn't full.)

  • The first sentence means, the moon is not full. But if it were, I would love it. Both parts of the sentence deal with the present. Whereas in the second one means, the moon wasn't full, but had it been full , I would've loved it. Am I wrong? – Soumya Ghosh Oct 27 '17 at 16:42
  • No. The first one makes sense if you don't know whether the moon is full or not (maybe you're underground). The second one implies that you know that the moon isn't full. – Colin Fine Oct 27 '17 at 21:21
  • @ColinFine +1, but Soumya Ghosh's comment is relevant. The present tense also makes sense if you know the moon isn't full. Context is required to determine the meaning. – joiedevivre Jun 19 '18 at 18:10
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"I would've (would have) loved it" is past tense. "I would love it" is present tense. The real difference is that if you use the past tense, you are suggesting that it is not still the case (you wouldn't love it now), otherwise you would use the present tense.

I would expect the first sentence to be followed by another phrase explaining why it isn't still the case: "I would've loved it if I had a mind as brilliant as Stephen Hawking's, but I realised that was wishful thinking"

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