In Ozark (s01e02) Jason Bateman's character instructs his children what he would love to see when he has come back:

And I'd love to not have to turn the room upside down to find the clicker. That wasn't fun.

A Russian translator translated the second sentence as "That wouldn't be fun" (in Russian) and that gave me a thought.

It seems to me that this line should have sounded perfect in the original. Why was the past tense used?

I see two possible explanations:

1) The situation in the second sentence is real. Bateman's character refers to the situation that happened in the past and he doesn't want the repeating of it. The translator should have translated it without using the would-clause.


2) The situation in the second sentence is imaginary. We can figure it out from the context of the first sentence with "would"-phrase. It is correct (?) to refer to the imaginary situations using the past tense in this case. Both options ("That wasn't fun" and "That wouldn't be fun") are acceptable and refer to an imaginary situation.

If the second explanation is true, could someone explain that rule?

  • 2
    The simple past when used in conjunction with if marks a hypothetical (What would happen if we mixed baking soda and vinegar?) but simple past alone, as we have here with the Bateman quotation, does not do so. "That wasn't fun" does not refer to an imaginary situation. It refers to an actual one, in the past.
    – TimR
    May 3, 2018 at 11:56

2 Answers 2


Actually I think the answer to this is rather more subtle and involves humour, which may be why it didn't translate well.

The character is first of all saying what he doesn't want to happen (he doesn't want to have to search the entire room for the clicker/remote) - and you are correct that this is technically the future tense, even though he is talking about something he hopes will not happen.

BUT when he says in a new sentence "that wasn't fun" I instantly took that to be a reference to a past occasion where it has happened before.

Normally this would not be good English, as it is not completely clear. But the jarring switch between tenses is deliberate, and I have seen it used many times before in comedy. It would have had the same comedic effect if, after the first sentence had ended he had simply said "Again".

For example:

I'm not drinking alcohol tonight, I don't want to end up wandering the streets naked at 3am. Again.

  • 1
    Thank you very much! Your description of a native speaker's reaction to this phrase is what I wanted to find out. That was very helpful.
    – user74785
    May 3, 2018 at 11:24

The writer with "That wasn't fun" is using the past continuous: the perfect, completed action of searching for the remote control, was, and continues to be, not fun.

For the two options you give, the 1st is literally closer to the original meaning.

[I'm not familiar with Russian tenses and aspects, but using a perfect tense in English "That hasn't been fun." does change the meaning slightly to imply that the event has occurred more than once.]

However, which one is the better translation, depends very much on which phrase is idiomatic in Russian.

  • 2
    Thank you. 1) I haven't got it about the past continuous. It is just "to be + adjective" in the past tense, isn't? 2) The Russian translation was an additional piece of information for the question. Of course, the question itself is about English explanation. Sorry, maybe I didn't make it clear. 3) Is my explanation #2 false? Why was the form "That wouldn't be fun" not used in the original?
    – user74785
    May 3, 2018 at 11:09
  • 1
    Why was the form "That wouldn't be fun" not used in the original? - the two have different meanings: "That wouldn't be fun" implies that the potential future act of searching for the remote control would not be fun, whereas "That wasn't fun" implies that at some point in the past, searching for the remote was not fun. Either way the writer is saying he doesn't want to come home and have to search for the remote control again.
    – james
    May 3, 2018 at 11:28
  • Thank you. i think I got it. :) My initial #1 hypothesis was correct for this situation and #2 was wrong.
    – user74785
    May 3, 2018 at 11:38

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