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A middle-aged woman of mine complained to her husband that she was bored. "We never go anywhere or see anyone", she told him. "We just sit here night after night in front of the television." Her husband thought for a moment, then suggested, "Would it help if we CHANGED seats?"

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This is a type 2 conditional, which has been inverted into an interrogative (question) form.

A type 2 conditional describes the probable result of a possible condition. The possible condition is expressed as an if-clause with a simple past verb:

If we changed seats...

and the probable result is in a main clause with a verb in the present conditional:

...it would help.

These two clauses can be put in either order without changing the meaning of the sentence:

If we changed seats, it would help.

It would help if we changed seats.

If you want to ask whether or not something is a probable result of a possible condition, you turn the type 2 conditional into a question by reversing the subject (it) and the auxiliary verb (would) of the main clause:

It would help if we changed seats.

Would it help if we changed seats?

You could also say, "If we changed seats, would it help?" But however the sentence is arranged, that simple-past form of "changed" is used, and what the question is really asking is, "Is helping our situation the probable result of the possible condition of changing seats?"

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  • I had studied conditionals, but I didn't know that it could be used like this in a question form. Thanks very much for explaining. – Shivam Jan 5 '18 at 19:44
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It's a common use among native English speakers (in the U.S., at least). A fully expanded sentence might read something like:

If we had changed seats, would your situation be improved?

Colloquial English barely acknowledges the subjunctive, let alone sees it used consistently or appropriately. The sentence which, grammatically, is "most correct" would be similar to:

Would it help if we were to change seats?

But many typical English speakers (again, in the U.S.) find this to be a bit stuffy and formal, regardless of how familiar they are with the subjunctive.

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  • There is no need to "expand" it into a past perfect verb form to explain it – eques Jan 5 '18 at 19:42

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