I can't quite put my finger on it but I'm pretty sure there is a mistake in the following sentence:

"If he learned that he would die, he would love to get..."

Probably regarding the sequence of tense or the use of the conditional but I can't find it.

Any help please? Thanks :)

  • I don't see anything wrong with the phrase. May 13, 2019 at 7:38

2 Answers 2


This sentence is ambiguous as it stands.

The first possible meaning is that you already know that that he found out about something some time ago, and you are speculating about what he found out and what he would do after finding out. It really is possible that the thing he actually found out that he was going to die.

The second possible meaning (although it's not the way it's phrase it), is that you are speculating about what he would do if, at some time in the future, he found out that he was going to die. This is a hypothetical situation.

If the second is what you want to say, your sentence would probably be OK in casual conversation but if you wanted to be completely clear in a formal situation it would be better to say

If he were to learn that he would die, he would love to get...

were to is only used in a hypothetical situation, so this is unambiguous.

  • While "If he were to learn..." is unambiguous, it's very formal and would sound stilted in a casual conversation, so I think claiming it would be 'better' to say that is a bit much - which would be better is very dependent on context when it comes to use of the subjunctive in English.
    – Sparksbet
    May 13, 2019 at 8:02
  • @Sparksbet good point. I have updated my answer.
    – JavaLatte
    May 13, 2019 at 8:27
  • Here we are in a hypothetical situation. The narrator imagines what he'd do if he were to die. I know that it would be acceptable in a casual conversation but here it is written on an acadmic piece of work and thus has to respect the formal tone.
    – gck69
    May 13, 2019 at 8:39
  • @gck69 in that case, the sentence that I suggested is the correct approach.
    – JavaLatte
    May 13, 2019 at 10:37

If you are talking about a past incident (in the unfortunate event that the person is already dead) you can say

If he had learned that he would die, he would have loved to get...

However a better way to say that is

Had he learned that he would die, he would have loved to get...

If you are referring to present (the person is still alive) you can say

If he learns that he will die, he will love to get...

  • 1
    How is "Had he learned..." better than "If he had learned..."? If anything it's more antiquated language. And your present tense version completely changes the meaning of the sentence and only works if he has not yet learned that he'll die.
    – Sparksbet
    May 13, 2019 at 8:05

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