1. The conclusion is contrary to what you expected.

  2. The conclusion is contrary to what you would expect.

  3. The conclusion is contrary to what you would have expected.

  4. Who would have expected such a counterintuitive conclusion?

In coloquial register, I would think Examples 2, 3 and 4 mean the same, right?

But in a more formal register, can I say that Example 2 refers to an present real expectation and Example 3 and 4 refer to a past real expectation?

Are there any implicit conditionals implied in Examples 2, 3 and 4? Say, if you were told or given some clue, you would expect such-and-such.. If it is true that there are any, then Examples 2, 3 and 4 refer to irrealis expectations, right?


You've got it pretty much right; but I think that the equivalence of 2 and 3 is a matter not of register but of semantics and pragmatics.

Sentence 2 reflects a present conditional;

You would expect conclusion X if you were presented these premises.

Sentence 3 reflects a past conditional:

You would have expected conclusion X if you had been presented these premises.

Practically speaking, however, these amount to the same thing: any reasonable person at any time would draw the same inference from the same premises. There is a difference between the two only if something in the context marks the conclusion as historically contingent.

The conclusion which 18th-century philosophes drew is contrary to what you would expect if you were presented these premises today.
The conclusion you draw today is contrary to what you would have expected if you had been presented these premises in the 18th century.

  • Can you plz explain to me the meaning of 'historical contingency'? I thought it was about evolution. How is it related to your answer? @StoneyB – Kinzle B Jun 8 '14 at 5:13
  • @ZhanlongZheng Contingent means 'happening by chance, not logical necessity', so a 'historically contingent conclusion' is a logical conclusion which depends not just on logic but on circumstances at a particular point in history. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 8 '14 at 11:01
  • Come to think of it, you say "you had been presented these premises." But I think it should be "you had been presented with these premises." OALD and Macmillan don't say "present" can take double objects. Right? @StoneyB – Kinzle B Jun 10 '14 at 16:31
  • @ZhanlongZheng Present, provide, furnish (and others) may be either mono- or ditransitive; when monotransitive, either what is given or the recipient (but not both!) may be expressed with a preposition phrase. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 10 '14 at 16:36
  • Oddly enough, the dictionaries don't have examples of ditransitive usage for these verbs. @StoneyB – Kinzle B Jun 10 '14 at 16:43

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