But if I'd dropped dead every time she's told me I'm going to, I'd be a medical miracle. (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

I'm a bit confused here. The mixed third/second condition doesn't allow present tense does it? I think there is a mistake here. The part "she's told me I'm going to" isn't correct here, is it?

The third/second conditional is:

A mixed third and second conditional is used to describe a past possible action (third conditional) with a present result (second conditional).

  • If I had gone to the disco on Saturday night, I would be tired now.
  • 1
    The mix of tenses is odd, to my ear: had dropped...has told...am going. In the AmE in my area of the country, it would be "dropped...told...was going" or "had dropped...told...was going" The present perfect + present in the every time phrase would be an outlier in my neck of the woods.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 11:43
  • 3
    It is a bit odd in Modern English, but Harry is just showing the subjunctive conjugations in this instance as I have explained below. It's somewhat formal and fancy, but, in some instances, it really is necessary to convey a proper message to the listener or reader. Take for example: "What if I told you (now) that I am ill (now)?" or, "What if I had told you (then) that I am a millionaire?"
    – Nick
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 17:35

1 Answer 1


It's fine. It could be both, Alex. This mixed conditional as you call it is actually the subjunctive mood in English; in fact, what we have here with "I had gone" is the past perfect subjunctive. As I've stated in other posts, the subordinate clauses don't necessarily have to align with what appears to be the tense of the main clause because the main clause is not in a tense at all; it's in a mood.

Now, normally in Modern English, we would put the subordinate clauses in the past tense or past perfect tense so that they align with the aspect of the subjunctive conjugation, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Because of this, Harry is basically saying,

"She has told me on many occasions that I am going to die,"


"If I had dropped (subjunctive mood) dead every time that she has told me that I am going to die, I would (subjunctive mood) be a medical miracle."

Now, this construction is unnecessary and uncommon in Modern English today; therefore, Harry could just say it this way if he wanted to:

"If I had dropped dead every time that she had told me that I was going to die, I would be a medical miracle."

This is nothing more than verbal agreement above. It looks better since the past subjunctive and past perfect subjunctive conjugations look exactly like their indicative counterparts except for the simple past subjunctive of "to be", which is always supposed to be "were" for all persons even though native speakers don't always hearken to this rule. In any event, both are correct and mean the same thing. I've written posts on this before when others have asked. See "If you explained what you ___ trying to achieve, I would ...".

Again, this is not common in Modern English anymore, but Harry is obviously showing off his smarts about the subjunctive mood by showing the present perfect tense in the subordinate clause when the past perfect subjunctive is being used in the main clause.

I hope this might have helped you out, Alex. Just know that it's not a very common construction these days, but it is still heard in speech and read in books and articles every so often. Take care and good luck!

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .