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I want to ask someone that why he didn't tell me something in the past and I want to say the sentence as below:

if you knew that yesterday why you didn't tell me yesterday?

as I know this is not based on if condition formats and maybe I should have say:

if you knew that yesterday why you wouldn't tell me yesterday.

I am curious to know which sentence is correct if any of them is correct.

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    If you knew that yesterday why didn't you tell me [then/at the time/yesterday]? – Smock Apr 5 at 15:44
  • thx @Smock but based on third if condition format, if I am using past verb in the if part I should use "would" in the second part , please correct me if I wrong – joe gates Apr 5 at 15:48
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    It's not really a conditional statement as there is no statement, only a question. Conditional tenses are used to speculate about what could happen, what might have happened, and what we wish would happen. 'If you knew yesterday, you would have told me'. – Smock Apr 5 at 16:18
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    The version with would is used when the part that comes after if is hypothetical, as in if one day you realised you didn't love me, would you tell me? In your sentence there is no hypothetical, you are saying you knew yesterday, so why didn't you tell me then? That's why the would does not fit. – Minty Apr 5 at 16:36
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    This is not a conditional, so you shouldn't expect it to follow one of the three or four canonical conditional patterns. It can be rewritten as: You knew that yesterday, so why didn't you tell me then. Your alternative version with would is also not a conditional, and means: You knew that yesterday, so why wouldn't you (were you not willing to) tell me then? There are numerous other responses to conditional questions on this site quashing the notion that there are only three or four conditional constructions. – Shoe Apr 5 at 19:22
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Past verbs are often used for hypothetical conditions (what I think your teachers call "second conditional", but I've never heard that expression outside ESL teaching, so I'm not certain, and most English speakers won't know what you're talking about if you say it).

But this is not a hypothetical conditional, but a real conditional (what I think is called "first conditional") that happens to be in the past.

The first form you give

If you knew that yesterday why you didn't tell me yesterday?

is perfectly normal and grammatical.

The second form

If you knew that yesterday why you wouldn't tell me yesterday?

is also grammatical, but has a slightly different meaning. The modal verb "would" has several other meanings apart from its use as a pseudo-tense. Here it either means "why were you not willing to tell me yesterday?"; or else as an epistemic modal, meaning something like "Why could it possibly be the case that you didn't tell me yesterday?"

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    I think you need to address the flipped word order of "you didn't" and "you wouldn't" – THiebert Apr 5 at 18:20
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    To be clear neither "why you didn't tell me yesterday?" nor "why you wouldn't tell me yesterday?" are correct English. – DJClayworth Apr 5 at 18:28
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    To be more clear, "you didn't" and "you wouldn't" are not grammatical in this context, they should be "didn't you" and "wouldn't you". – Barmar Apr 5 at 19:49
  • True. I missed that point. – Colin Fine Apr 5 at 21:59
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This seems most natural to me:

If you knew that yesterday why didn't you tell me [then/at the time/yesterday]?

I'm trying to come up with a sentence using 'wouldn't' but they all feel terribly clumsy. These are about the best I can do:

If you knew yesterday, why would you not have told me?

or

If you knew yesterday, why wouldn't you have told me?

I suppose if you had asked someone about something the day before, but they said they didn't know, but then revealed that they did know, you could use this:

If you already knew, why wouldn't you tell me yesterday? (when I asked)

but it's still a bit clumsy, and the 'didn't' form still sounds better to my ear

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the question? Are you saying you think they are lying about knowing yesterday?

You could say this in the third conditional:

If you knew yesterday, you would have told me [already/yesterday]

  • I am getting your point but my problem is that based on conditional formula if I am using the past verb in the if part, I have to use "would" in the second part but this is against that rule (third conditional formula) – joe gates Apr 5 at 16:03
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    @joegates This is all contingent on how many conditionals you think actually exist: most EFL/ESL teachers would have it as only 3, but there are also mixed forms. Also...you did not invert the subject and verb in the question, making both sentences sound unnatural. – Cascabel Apr 5 at 18:32

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