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Which tense should be used in the main clause of the following?

We tend / would tend to view the earth as capable of regulating itself, if only humans would stop interfering with it.

I'd appreciate your help.

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  • Why would the result of the if-clause be expressed using the simple present? If only humans would stop interfering with it, we tend to view the earth as capable of regulating itself. Would you say If only it would rain, the crops grow?
    – TimR
    Oct 18, 2018 at 15:12
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo ESL/EFL grammar would lead me to expect "would tend to," but a native speaker used "tend to" with an if-only clause.
    – Apollyon
    Oct 18, 2018 at 15:29
  • And some native speakers seem to endorse the "tend to" option: forum.wordreference.com/threads/…
    – Apollyon
    Oct 18, 2018 at 15:30
  • @Lambie I got conflicting answers, so I want to find out which view is correct.
    – Apollyon
    Oct 18, 2018 at 15:42
  • Perhaps they're understanding it as two entirely separate clauses: We tend to view the earth as capable of regulating itself—if only humans would stop interfering with it!
    – TimR
    Oct 18, 2018 at 15:42

1 Answer 1

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I don't think either is appropriate in the context.

"We tend to" is describing tendencies that we are known to have and still have. The problem with this in the context you give is that you go on to use a conditional clause "if" in respect to something that might happen in the future (we stop interfering with the earth). It doesn't make sense to say that we tend to do something, which is an established pattern of thought or behaviour based on the past, but then say that is conditional on something in the future.

Likewise "We would tend to.... if..." is problematic because you are essentially predicting a "tendency", and a tendency is something established from past behaviour.

If you are actually trying to say that we have an existing tendency to think that the earth could repair itself if humans stopped interfering with it, then I would suggest you phrase this as:

We tend to believe that the earth is capable of regulating itself, if only humans would stop interfering with it.

This puts our tendency to believe or think something in the present tense, even though that belief is about the future. It also makes it clear that we believe it to be dependent on the condition stated.

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  • The "natural" position for a conditional clause is at the start of an utterance, so a really simplified version of the relevant syntax would be, for example, If you would speak, I would listen. According to your final suggestion above, people might say If you would speak, I listen as an alternative to my example - but native speakers [would] never say that. Oct 18, 2018 at 15:04
  • @FumbleFingers That wouldn't make any sense here. If you put the conditional clause at the start here it would say: "If only humans would stop interfering with the earth, we would tend to view it as capable of regulating itself". That would place the conditional clause on the tendency, rather than the earth repairing itself, and I do not believe that is what the OP wants to say.
    – Astralbee
    Oct 18, 2018 at 15:10
  • Shouldn't it be "We tend to believe that the earth would be capable of regulating itself, if only humans would stop interfering with it"?
    – Apollyon
    Oct 18, 2018 at 16:11
  • @Apollyon I'm not sure it matters either way. I say "is", because saying something "is capable" isn't the same as actually doing it now. With the "if" clause it is clear that this is something that would only happen should the condition be met. The condition doesn't make the earth become capable, it just allows it to do what it is already capable of.
    – Astralbee
    Oct 18, 2018 at 16:12
  • @Astralbee: I don't understand what you mean by that. Unless I'm missing something, it never affects the meaning whereabouts (before / within / after the utterance) you put the conditional clause. Oct 18, 2018 at 16:52

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