I know a bit how to use 3rd conditional, but not quite.

Situation: You suddenly heard sound from the lower ground of your house, which made you nervous about a burglar might be sneaking into your house. You almost forgot that you have got not-so-friendly dogs that bark when they see strangers. And you said:

Nah, my dogs would have already barked, if it really had been a burglar.

Is this correctly constructed? Because I've included the "be verb" specifically "been" in the sentence.

P.S.: The sentence above is a hypothetical thinking about a past event.

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    It's correctly constructed. More formal alternate: "... had it really been a burglar." Side note: False positives abound; dogs bark whether it's a burglar or the wind or just for the hell of it. – Robusto Dec 23 '18 at 18:24
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    @John Arvin - nothing to do with question tags. When talking about something that might have happened in the past, but did not, we can invert the subject and the verb - e.g. "if X had been Y then..." can become (more formally) "had X been Y then... " see here – Michael Harvey Dec 23 '18 at 19:52
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    There are two possible verb tenses in the if clause: had been a burglar is correct if you consider the noise to be in the past. were a burglar is better if you consider the noise to be in the present. – Peter Shor Dec 23 '18 at 20:38
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    Two of the existing answers were made based on the original question in which you used already. Without that word existing, the answers no longer make sense. I have put the word back in place. If you want, you can remove the word from your question again—but please add some kind of commentary saying that it had been there originally. (In other words, don't invalidate existing answers by editing your question.) – Jason Bassford Dec 23 '18 at 21:40
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    The sentence is fine. "if it really had been a burglar" is exactly the same as "had it really been a burglar". The second option is fine but everyone uses the first, which is 100% grammatical. – Lambie Dec 23 '18 at 22:04

Per your scenario, you heard a sound. That sound happened in the past. Now you're worried. You can calm yourself down with either of these thoughts:

Had it (that is, had that sound) really been a burglar, the dogs would have barked.

Had it (that is, had that sound) really been a burglar, the dogs would be barking.

That is to say, the dogs would have barked (their barking would also have happened in the past). Or the dogs might have started to bark upon hearing the sound and they might still be barking.

If you want to bring that sound into the present, you would use the present perfect: You have heard a sound, and you're wondering if it is a burglar.

If that sound I've heard is really a burglar, the dogs would be barking.

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  • If my sentence is already fine, then I'm contented. Anyhow, this is the best answer, if I were to say my sentence in the present. – John Arvin Dec 24 '18 at 8:17

This is one of those cases where the time frame of the main clause is not the same time frame as the time frame of the conditional clause. When this happens, you need to use a mixed conditional:

My dogs would have already barked, if it really were a burglar.

This construction puts the dogs' barking in the past, and the hypothetical burglar in the present.

You can mix clauses from hypothetical conditions (2nd and 3rd) with each other, and clauses from real conditionals (0th and 1st) with each other in this way, but you shouldn't mix clauses from real and hypothetical conditionals.

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  • Peter, I don't agree that the time frames are not the same. The "if" clause is suppositional (hypothetical), indicating otherwise. There is no need to use a mixed conditional. – Robusto Dec 23 '18 at 18:44
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    @Robusto: What you're worried about is whether there is a burglar downstairs right now when you're hearing the noise, not whether there was a burglar downstairs two minutes ago when the dogs didn't bark. Maybe you don't actually need to use a mixed conditional, but it seems more natural to me, especially if you use the word already. – Peter Shor Dec 23 '18 at 18:49
  • @all: please see my updated construction, leaving out the "already", to indicate that my time frame all played out (main and relative clause) IN THE PAST. – John Arvin Dec 23 '18 at 19:05
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    @Robusto: I think I side with Peter on this particular "fine point". As he says, the issue is whether there is a burglar downstairs right now - but the standard tense coupling My dogs will have already barked, if it really is a burglar simply doesn't work unless we assume both "speakers" are actually deaf (and conversing in sign language! :). In that hypothetical scenario, the "posited future + present" works fine. As with The neighbours will have already dialled 911 if it really is a burglar, so we can just sit tight and wait for the police to arrive. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 23 '18 at 19:34
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    Why are you bringing up mixed conditionals?Is that relevant to the OP's utterance? It was: "Nah, my dogs would have already barked, if it really had been a burglar." [I say right now to you ten minutes after the incident.] – Lambie Dec 23 '18 at 22:06

Leave out the "already".

Had it really been a burglar, my dogs would have barked.

I have some suggestions for you: You suddenly hear a sound coming from the ground floor of your house (or from downstairs), which makes you nervous about a burglar trying to sneak into your house.

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  • Kindly break it down why I should leave out the "already". The remaing sentences after the first one are a bit off, my sentence happened in the past. Anyway, thx. – John Arvin Dec 23 '18 at 19:14
  • I just think the sentence sounds better without it, but the others think it is fine, so I'm probably wrong. – anouk Dec 24 '18 at 6:10

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