When we were children, we lived by the sea. In summer, if the weather was fine, we would all get up early and go for a swim.

Sometimes I get confused with the conditionals. In this specific example can we use the past perfect? because I think this example is a “hypothetical past condition”. So is it possible and grammatically correct to say something like this:

When we were children, we lived by the sea. In summer, if the weather had been fine, we would have all gotten up early and gone for a swim.

  • 1
    FYI, a more common way to say it is "when the weather was fine".
    – Barmar
    Aug 15, 2018 at 17:30

3 Answers 3


It is grammatical but it doesn't mean the same thing.

In particular it means that the weather never was fine. The past perfect forces the conditional to be unrealized. I think that's what happens anyhow, but the meaning is certainly that the weather never was fine so we didn't get up early and go for a swim.

  • The difference is subtle but DRF is correct. "Had been fine" gives the implication that fine weather was unusual or unexpected; "was fine" tells us that the weather was the pre-condition without conveying any sense of what the weather typically would be. Both would probably be used in everyday situations. (edit: accidentally replied before finishing comment)
    – david_c
    Aug 15, 2018 at 14:00
  • I disagree. It means on those occasions when the weather was fine, we got up early and went for a swim. And there is no past perfect....
    – Lambie
    Aug 15, 2018 at 18:00
  • @lambie Hmm. I have the same reading as John yet you disagree with me and agree with him. As to the past perfect, I'll admit to being way to confused about all the tenses/moods/etc. to argue. Also I agree with your reading in the literal sense. When the weather was fine they did go for a swim that's quite in agreement with what i wrote.
    – DRF
    Aug 15, 2018 at 18:42
  • Actually, it seems you only addressed the second sentence. Fine. My misunderstanding. But then you did not address the first one at all. Right?
    – Lambie
    Aug 15, 2018 at 19:15
  • @lambie No I did not. I might have misunderstood the question but he way I read the OP he's asking is the second sentence grammatical and can I use it instead of the first. Thus my answer "Yes it's grammatical, but no it doesn't mean the same."
    – DRF
    Aug 15, 2018 at 19:17

When we were children, we lived by the sea. ***This is a simple statement of (past) truth.****

In summer, if the weather had been fine ****this implies that the weather wasn't fine even in summer!***, we would have all gotten up early and gone for a swim" ***because the weather wasn't fine you never went for a swim.......ever......in your childhood :-).

If the weather was fine ***** a regular occurrence in summer i.e. a simple statement of truth**** we would go for a swim ****using would to describe a regular occurrence as well as the result of the if statement. ****

2nd conditional

If the weather was fine, we would go for a swim.

  • Absolutely. There is no past perfect in the OP's sentence. I would just note that here I would have used: When the weather was fine, and not if.
    – Lambie
    Aug 15, 2018 at 18:01
  • The reason why I am confused is that whenever I search about the structure of conditionals they express the intent of the second conditional as "The second conditional is used to talk about ‘unreal’ or impossible things". And in my example second conditional was used for "simple statement of truth(past)", like usage of "when" . I didn't know that usage so in this case "if the weather was fine" is not a hypothetical situation right? and it is not a backshifted present statement ? Aug 15, 2018 at 19:26

The past perfect discusses whether something occurred as of some past time. It can also be used to discuss counterfactuals. So "if the weather had been fine" either refers to a counterfactual, hypothetical being fine that never happened, or refers to some even more past possibility. That is, while the simple past would indicate that when we decided whether to go swimming, we would look at how the weather was at that moment (both the decision and the weather are happening in the past, but at the same past moment), the perfect tense would indicate that when we decided whether to go swimming, we would look at the weather as it had been in the past relative to that decision. That is, the time period for the weather being fine would be even more in the past than the moment of deciding whether to go swimming.

The counterfactual meaning dominates; with the past perfect, this would probably be interpreted as saying the weather was not in fact fine. But a "more past" interpretation is also possible. Either way, it wouldn't have the same meaning as the simple past.

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