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If I were driving the car I wouldn't be on the phone now.
If I had been driving the car I wouldn't have been on the phone.

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The first sentence is a factual conditional sentence, which which essentially states that if one fact holds, then so does another.

In your case, one can infer that you are not driving, since you are on the phone.

The second implication is called a speculative conditional sentence, in which a situation is described as dependent on a condition that is known to be false.

In your second sentence, you are describing that you wouldn't have been on the phone, had you been driving the car. Here, the situation you are describing is "I wouldn't have been on the phone", while the false condition is "If I had been driving the car", which implies you weren't driving it.


You can tell the second sentence is of speculative nature since it uses the perfect conditional. This also allows you to infer that the situation described has already taken place. For further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conditional_perfect

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  • Thank you for adding more clarity to my understanding.. But I don't get your point from the last paragraph running " This also allows you to infer that the situation described has already taken place." How come? – Kannan May 17 '18 at 9:40
  • It doesn’t necessarily refer to a situation that has actually happened, but to a hypothetical situation in the past. The conditional perfect is in the apodosis, namely, “I wouldn’t have been.” Here, “would not” is in the conditional mood, while “I have been,” is in the perfect; combine them both and you obtain conditional perfect. As an aside, it’s worth noting that the word perfect in this sense means "completed" from the Latin “perfectum.” I would urge you to check the wiki page on perfect tense, as well the one attached to my answer, as they provide a decent enough explanation. – Alex D May 18 '18 at 6:50
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The first sentence is in the present and about an action that is happening right now. It could be a reply to something like this:

X asks, "Are you driving the car?"

Y answers, "If I were driving the car I wouldn't be on the phone now."

The second sentence is about something in past that may/may not have happened.

X asks, "Were you driving the car when 'something' happened?"

Y answers, "If I had been driving the car I wouldn't have been on the phone."

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