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If it was not important enough to be on the exam, then I did not teach it

It's been written here: https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/147451/how-to-politely-reply-and-educate-students-with-unreasonable-requests .

I wonder if it's correct English because I've never seen such a phenomenon in any situation. An obvious correct way to say it is: If it wasn't important enough to be on the exam, then I wouldn't have taught it/ I wouldn't teach it.

If it's correct, then why + when can I form such sentences without being considered incorrect?

Please, consider AmE-BrE-AuE differences in your answers.

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  • 4
    It is a perfectly good English conditional, and as far as I know it works in AmE, BrE, AuE. At some point in the past, ESL teachers decided that the actual grammar of the English conditional was too complicated for ESL students to learn (I don't believe this) and simplified it greatly, so they now teach an absurdly incomplete list of three conditionals. Apr 10 '20 at 12:01
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It is a perfectly good English conditional, and as far as I know it works in AmE, BrE, AuE.

The way that conditionals actually work in English is much more complicated than is taught in ESL classes, and it varies slightly from speaker to speaker. Here is the way conditionals work for me.

Every conditional is either a real conditional or an irrealis conditional. For each of these two types, there is a past form and a present form for both the if clause and the main clause. You can use different forms in the if clause and the main clause if they describe different time periods, although you probably shouldn't mix irrealis and real (there are occasions when we mix them, but they're rare).

                               Irrealis  
+---------------------------------------------------------------------------+  
|                 if clause                         main clause             |   
+===========================================================================+  
| Past        If he had ridden to Nottingham      he would have been killed.|  
+---------------------------------------------------------------------------+  
| Present     If he rode to Nottingham            he would be killed.       | 
| Future                                                                    |
+---------------------------------------------------------------------------+  


                               Real  
+---------------------------------------------------------------------------+  
|                 if clause                         main clause             |   
+===========================================================================+  
| Past        If he rode to Nottingham            he was killed.            |  
+---------------------------------------------------------------------------+  
| Present     If he rides to Nottingham           he will be killed.        | 
| Future                                                                    |
+---------------------------------------------------------------------------+  

Note that the if clause for the present irrealis is the same as for the past real, a possible source of confusion. Native English speakers don't generally get confused by this, because the main clauses are different for irrealis and real conditionals.

An example of a mixed real conditional is:

If he rode to Nottingham, he will be killed.

Here, the if clause is in the past, and the main clause is in the future.

So

if it wasn't important enough to be on the exam, then I did not teach it,

is a perfectly good English conditional; it's a past real conditional. And the real conditional is the best one to use here, because it's describing a real and not a hypothetical situation.

There are still lots of conditionals whose exact form isn't covered by this answer, for example the present real conditional:

if he is riding to Nottingham, he is riding into an ambush.

However, this will help you understand the main classes.

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If it was not important enough to be on the exam, then I did not teach it

and

If it wasn't important enough to be on the exam, then I wouldn't have taught it/ I wouldn't teach it.

are both perfectly correct English conditionals but they are NOT two different ways of saying the same things.

The first is talking about things you did not teach, the second is talking about things you did teach.

The first might be an answer to the question "Why didn't you teach your class about X this year?"

The second might be response to the statement "I know you discussed X during class, but I was surprised it was on the exam"

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