Suppose someone says that they were not prepared enough to get into a university, but the university (say Harvard for example) still accepted them. How to deny this claim by using conditionals? Something like this:

You are being overly modest. If you weren't prepared for Harvard, you wouldn't be able to take away anything from the class on nuclear physics and other advanced classes.

(If it matters, consider 2 contexts. Context A: that person has already taken nuclear physics. Context B: the person is taking nuclear physics now.)

First of all, what's the correct conditional structure? Is the above correct, or should it be "I you hadn't been prepared,..." and/or "you wouldn't have been able to..."?

Second, is the expression "take away" (knowledge, in this case) used properly? (I'm not talking about just passing a class, but rather about "taking away" something useful from there.)

And are there other mistakes in the above "denial"?

  • In the quoted part, did the person attend the nuclear physics and other advanced classes after being accepted on Harvard? If so, the grammar looks fine to me.
    – Jan
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 16:41

1 Answer 1


I don't see anything wrong with the statement you have written, in either of the two contexts you have described. However, I don't necessarily see anything wrong the modifications you have proposed either.

In context A (the person referred to as you in the statement has taken and completed the nuclear physics course), you might prefer "If you hadn't have been prepared...then you wouldn't have been able to..." as it emphasises the fact that these are things that the person has definitively achieved in the past.

In context B (the person referred to as you in the statement is currently taking a nuclear physics course), the statement is acceptable unchanged, but note that it does leave the speaker open for a further rebuttal, where the subject feels that they are not succeeding in their course and so that proves their point about being unprepared.

You may also see this used in a classic trope of sarcasm in mainstream media, when the speaker pauses and says, ...Oh, wait!. In this case, the speaker is perfectly aware that the subject is not succeeding and is making a point of that fact.

In either context, your use of "take away" is perfectly understandable in casual speech or writing.

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