I am reading through a grammar book; it says:

If the consultant _____ that we should hire more staff, Helen wouldn't be working here now.

The possible answers are:
A. didn't recommend
B. doesn't recommend
C. hadn't recommended
D. wasn't recommending

The book says the correct answer is C, but that just doesn't seem correct to me. I believe the correct answer is A If I am wrong could someone tell me why the correct answer is C? Thank you very much!


3 Answers 3


B is simply invalid, in that if he doesn't do this refers to a [possible] future condition, so there's no grammatical or semantic way to couple this to [then] she wouldn't be doing that, which refers to [actual] current activity.

A and C are grammatically credible, but A is semantically unlikely. Perhaps it will help to consider a different version of the basic format IF [statement1] [statement2]...

A1: If you did not kill him you wouldn't be on trial for murder
C1: If you had not killed him you wouldn't be on trial for murder

A1 can be paraphrased You must have killed him or you wouldn't be on trial, the same construction as If you didn't love me you wouldn't have married me. Since statement2 is true, statement1 must be true too.

C1 can be paraphrased the reason you are on trial is because you killed him. In some hypothetical scenario where statement1 isn't (or wasn't) true, statement2 isn't (or wasn't or won't be) true either. See the final paragraph in this related answer for more on why isn't/wasn't/won't be are to some extent interchangeable in the "irrealis inferential conditional" context of that preceding sentence.

OP's last option is grammatically valid, but an unlikely form in most contexts. But it would work in, say,...

D1: If he wasn't boring me I wouldn't be thinking about leaving the party

Some people would say that should be If he weren't boring me..., but it's a common informal usage.

TL;DR: C is the "best" answer, but A and D are at least "credible" in contrived contexts. I don't think it's a good idea for multiple choice questions like this to offer more than one "grammatically valid" alternative.

  • +1 The problem, I'm pretty sure, is that the testmakers never look beyond the @#$@ 3 conditionals. I've got to kill it. Commented May 28, 2014 at 2:56
  • @StoneyB: I find UK-style cryptic crossword clues are an excellent way of illustrating just how often "credible, but contrived" alternative interpretations are available in English. Good clues often deliberately include misleading context to throw the solver off the scent, leading to that satisfying "Aha!" moment when you finally think of the relevant interpretation that leads to the answer (which must then be identifiable as unambiguously correct, in order to fully satisfy the dedicated solver). Commented May 28, 2014 at 12:51

I agree with your grammar book.

To use didn't recommend, you will need to change the sentence a little:

If the consultant didn't recommend that we should hire more staff (now), Helen wouldn't be working here next week. (-- Helen is probably in the waiting list of the HR department.)
NOTE: Even this version still doesn't quite really work. Please read more in StoneyB's comment below.

The part didn't recommend of the if-clause, as you seem to know, is used for a hypothetical event in the present time, and wouldn't be working is used for a hypothetical consequence in the future.

However, your sentence forces a hypothetical consequence in the present. (It suggests that Helen is already working here now.) The reasonable way to make sense of the sentence is to express the if-clause as a hypothetical event in the past, and thus, we have to use hadn't recommended. So, the answer is C), and our sentence will be:

If the consultant hadn't recommended that we should hire more staff, Helen wouldn't be working here now.

  • 1
    Didn't recommend doesn't work for me with counterfactual futurive wouldn't. I think it's because recommend is telic: if the recommendation is known to be false, it has to lie in the past; if the decision has not been made yet, it cannot be known to be false. To make your example work recommend has to be stative: "If the consultant weren't recommending ..." Commented May 28, 2014 at 2:38
  • HOWEVER - didn't recommend does work if it is a realis past: "If the consultant didn't recommend last week that we should hire more staff, Helen wouldn't be working here now/next week." The fact that Helen is/will be working here now/next week proves that the consultant did recommend .... See this ELU question. Commented May 28, 2014 at 2:59
  • @StoneyB I kept thinking about what you commented ("weren't recommending", which I agree), and why I didn't feel that myself the time I wrote it. I've just recalled that I wrote it with soon at first: "If the consultant didn't recommend that we should hire more staff (soon), Helen wouldn't be working here next week," then I revised soon into now to simplify things for the OP. I think you'd agree that didn't recommend ... soon is possible as a counterfactual in the example sentence. Any advice is greatly appreciated. Commented May 28, 2014 at 13:26

Your test is an example of a mixed conditional clause types 3-2. That's why in the if-clause you must have "past perfect" and in the result cluase usually "would+base form of the verb". It is used to "contrast an imagined or real event in the past with the present result of that". Here is another example:

If he hand't run after the car thief and suffered a heart attack, he would probably be alive now. Or:

If she had taken necessary precautions, she wouldn't be pregnant now.

In both examples, you're dealing with consequences of a past action in the present.

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