On https://scifi.stackexchange.com/q/209550/1924 there was a comment

If someone thinks being able to find out more or less everything that happened in the past is less dangerous than a dragons, all it shows is that they know less than Jon Snow.

To which I answered:

One example: Robert learning the true identity of Jon Snow would've led to civil war in a snap. Robert could not let him live and Ned would not have given him up easily and likely would've raised the entire North to protect his sister's son as if he were his own.

I struggled with the tense quite a bit. Was this correct?


Yes, "would have led" is the correct tense to express a past hypothetical. Another example:

Amateur historians often speculate that a few minor advances in metallurgy would have started the Industrial Revolution during the Roman Empire, but the truth is that great many scientific advances had to happen before things like steam power became practical.

The rest of your sentences are good as well. "Would not have given him up" is exactly right.

(Edit) As Jim Reynolds mentions,

Robert could not let him live

should probably be

Robert could not have let him live

However this brings up an interesting nuance with this grammar. "Could not let him live" works fine, as it implies "within the previously mentioned or established hypothetical context". For example:

Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark would have known that, once they started their rebellion, they could not let any of the Targaryan children live.

However if you are using this context, then you should be consistent:

[In the context of a hypothetical civil war] Robert could not let him live, Ned would not readily give him up, and the entire North would rise to protect Ned Stark's sister's son.

Since this is convoluted grammar, it's often fine to be a little off. I didn't even notice any discrepancy until it was pointed out to me.

  • "Ned would not have given him up easily " -- also correct? – chx Apr 26 '19 at 6:10
  • @chx Yes, please see my edit. Very nicely done. – Andrew Apr 26 '19 at 6:12
  • I submit that Robert could not have let him live is better, for the same reason you mention, @Andrew. It's also talking about a hypothetical and the could have in the construction provides modal remoteness. Another possibility is Robert would not have been able to let him live / allow him to live. Additionally, your message might be more clear and easier to follow if the second sentence was broken down into multiple sentences. Finally, it's more common to write out the contraction would've unless we're writing dialogue. That's also just a style choice. would've occurs more in speech. – Jim Reynolds Apr 26 '19 at 6:23
  • 1
    @JimReynolds Sure, "could not have let him live" is better. Actually "could not let him live" is acceptable as it implies "within the previously established context" -- except that the next sentence uses "would not have given" which breaks that pattern. I'll edit my answer to include this interesting detail. – Andrew Apr 26 '19 at 6:31

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