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I always come across this kind of sentences. What kind of conditonal should I use when I want to talk about the "possible result of an imagined situation in the past".

I don't understand why we don't use past perfect in these sentences since these sentences questioning something that was might or might not have been in the past. These questions refer to the past.

As far as I understand American speakers don't usually use "past perfect" in conditional sentences, even though those sentences refer to the past. They just use past simple. Am I right?

1-What if she did find a life at that convent ? (The subject doesn't know if she found a life at that convent or not . This action of "finding a life" happened or didn't happen in the past so the subject is just curious about it right now . Because the subject is investigating a crime right now )

2-What if they wanted to protect her ? (The subject doesn't know if they wanted to protect her or not in the past. The subject is just curious about it right now . Because the subject is investigating a crime right now. )

I think these sentences should be like this:

1'- What if she had found a life at that convent?

2'- What if they had wanted to protect her?

  • There is no way of knowing if anything is implied or not without further context. If I'm writing a novel, for instance, and I'm debating what to do with a character, I easily may not yet have written what happens to them. In the case of these questions, I could simply be brainstorming different possibilities and outcomes. In this completely hypothetical situation, however, the actual language would remain the same as if I were using it in a situation where something actually had happened—and even if I actually knew what that was. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jul 10 at 14:30
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As an American speaker, I think you are correct. 1 and 2 sound fine. 1' implies she did not find a life at the convent. 2' sounds like we are trying to figure out the motivation of something "they" did in the past.

  • Thank you. When we use this sentence "What if she had found a life at that convent? " , I imply she didn't find a life at that convent? It doesn' fit into the context I gave since the man asking this question don't know if she found a life or not. So here using past simple: " What if she did find a life at that convent? " sounds okay even though it refers to the past possible event not present time or future? – Talha Özden Jul 10 at 8:36
  • In the context you give, it might be better to say "What if she found a life at that convent?" You could also say "What if she did find a life at that convent?" but that has a little extra emphasis on "did". It might make more sense in these cases: "Let's say she didn't find a life at that convent. That would be bad. But, what if she did find a life at that convent?" or "What if she did find a life at that convent? So what? What's wrong with that?" – pfalstad Jul 11 at 16:29

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