In this conditional "If Kennedy had survived, the US would be very different now" the if clause uses a past perfect form and the main clause a simple past one. Why is that? This sentence is an example of third conditional and so the main clause should be written as "the US would have been very different now". So, why is it written in past simple? Thanks.

  • It is apparently a mistake. Also "survuve" is a mistake, the past participle is "survived". What is the source of your quote? Feb 25, 2018 at 16:42
  • The main clause isn't "simple past" - it's a conditional involving the auxiliary would [be] (where be is actually an infinitive). In other contexts it would be quite possible to use the perfect form there - for example, If he had shot her she would have died / have been dead. But because your main clause includes now, we wouldn't usually explicitly cast it into the past with a perfect form. It's still theoretically possible, but idiomatically not likely. Feb 25, 2018 at 16:50

2 Answers 2


If Kennedy had survived, the US would be very different now.

If that sentence is allowable, so too is:

If I had gone, I would see him. [That one is not grammatical.]

For me, "had survived" is a past tense, therefore, one needs to write:

If Kennedy had survived, the US would have been very different now. [Of course, it isn't very different, is it? We in the US ended up with the orange man].

Does one see the following?

If Kennedy had survived, the US would be different now.

Yes, one sees it, but personally, I would change it for the reason I showed above.

There are cases of mixed conditionals, etc. This is not one of them.

You can't accept one rule for one group of sentences, and then not for all the ones with the same pattern. There needs to be coherence.

The past conditional is pretty clear and requires a past conditional tense in the main clause. It refers to a past situation that never actually happened.

What might/could/should have been the outcome, if Kennedy had survived? That would be a mixed conditional, in simple terms.

There are times that if does not mean if.

Here it does.

When does the little word if not mean if? In utterances like this>

If he went, it was because he wanted too.

There, if means: assuming that he went, in the event that he went.

That way, there can be no doubt. That said, when there is a past with IF, as with this sentence, it is unreal. Therefore, the verb in the main clause must be: would have + PP. Or past conditional tense.

  • I downvoted this because it's just wrong and confusing, and, honestly, I don't like your formatting (and I know you won't let me edit this). I don't know what dialect you're a speaker of, but in Standard English, If I had gone, I would see him is grammatical. For example, you're now in Canada, and he's in the U.S. If you had gone to the U.S. when the opportunity presented itself, you would see him now. Does that not make sense to you?
    – user3395
    Mar 10, 2018 at 19:36
  • @userr2684291 If I had gone, I would have seen him is Standard English. Your example of Canada and the U.S. would also be in Standard English form: If I went [now], I would see him. "If I had gone, I would see him" is not Standard English at all. You might want to revisit your grammar.....just saying. And these examples are the same across all varieties of English.
    – Lambie
    Mar 10, 2018 at 20:02
  • "If I had gone" means you did not go and is a past tense, therefore, the main clause requires past tense: would have seen him.
    – Lambie
    Mar 10, 2018 at 20:52
  • You are mistaken. I honestly implore you to read this, this, or this to remind yourself of Standard English. In high school we called these "mixed conditionals", so you can google that as well.
    – user3395
    Mar 10, 2018 at 20:55
  • The BBC says: *These combinations are not all that frequent, but the most common combination is when we have a type 3 conditional in the if-clause (if + past perfect) followed by a type 2 conditional (would + infinitive) in the main clause." It also most definitely does not say that it's "Standard English".
    – Lambie
    Mar 10, 2018 at 21:13

First, correct the participle in your sentence:

If Kennedy had survived, the US would be very different now.

Next, ignore the category "third conditional"—in fact, discard everything you've learned about the "n conditionals". This system is a pedagogic device intended to introduce learners to conditional constructions, not a linguistic description of conditional constructions. The system confuses forms and meanings, and is irrelevant here.

Would be is not a "simple past"—it is a past-form modal employed to designate an "unreal" present eventuality. Had survived is a past-perfect form employed to designate an "unreal" past eventuality.

The sentence thus describes the hypothetical present-day consequence of an imaginary past event which is known to be contrary to fact.

  • It seems to me (1) If he hadn't died in the war, I would be married now and (2) ... I would have been married now are both "valid". But to me the perfect form implies more "distance" from the here and now, which arguably makes it more "wistful". I find it interesting to contemplate that nuance of "more hypothetical / unreal" specifically in the context of switching the subject from I to we in my example. Feb 25, 2018 at 17:15
  • '...discard everything you've learned about the "n conditionals". This system is a pedagogic device intended to introduce learners to conditional constructions, not a linguistic description of conditional constructions.' ?? This is English language learner's SE, why should learners discard pedagogic devices? And isn't "would have been" the preferred construction here? Feb 25, 2018 at 17:46
  • 1
    @laugh I invite folks to discard the n-conditional system when they've advanced beyond the point where the system is helpful and informative. And No, would have been different is not preferred here: it designates a different state in the past, not in the present. Feb 25, 2018 at 17:53
  • I find that in forums like these, leaning heavily on grammatical lingo can be very confusing to learners. When I'm learning a language, I appreciate really simple explanations with concrete examples. Frankly, I would say: If Kennedy had survived, the US would have been different. In a formal written context. That said, people say "would be" all the time. You can discard everything, except certain bits that are fine....
    – Lambie
    Feb 25, 2018 at 17:57
  • Good point about the present state (I misread the question) but with that in mind, isn't it better to use "If Kennedy survived, the US would be..." (which is pedagogically the second conditional)? Feb 25, 2018 at 17:58

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