Even though it refers to the past time, the second conditional is used. Why? English tenses sometimes seem to be mixed, which makes me confused.

If creators knew when they were on their way to fashioning a masterpiece, their work would progress only forward: they would halt their idea­ generation efforts as they struck gold. But time an again, Simonton finds that they backtrack, returning to versions that they had earlier discarded as inadequate. In Beethoven’s most celebrated work, the Fifth Symphony, he scrapped the conclusion of the first movement because it felt too short, only to come back to it later. Had Beethoven been able to distinguish an extraordinary from an ordinary work, he would have accepted his composition immediately as a hit. When Picasso was painting his famous Guernica in protest of fascism, he produced 79 different drawings. Many of the images in the painting were based on his early sketches, not the later variations. "The subsequent sketches proved to constitute 'blind alleys' in which the artist did not know in advance that he was taking the wrong track," Simonton explains. If Picasso could judge his creations as he produced them, he would get consistently “warmer” and use the later drawings. But in reality, it was just as common that he got “colder.”

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3 Answers 3


The author's choice of verb tenses here is definitely a little strange. It seems like they should have written this instead:

If Picasso could have judged his creations as he produced them, he would have gotten consistently “warmer” and used the later drawings.

I can think of two reasons why the author might have decided to use the "wrong" verb tenses.

One possibility is that the author wants us to imagine that we are in Picasso's time—to pretend, for a moment, that Picasso is still creating art nowadays.

Another possibility is that when the author says "Picasso," they are really talking about Picasso and other artists who create great works. In other words, the author is actually saying, "If Picasso and other artists could judge their creations as they produce them, they would get consistently 'warmer.'" The author is simply using Picasso as an example.


As you know, Picasso died. He is dead. We can' t use 2nd conditional about him. Only can we use 3rd conditional right? All he did was past things. I guess the author takes us on 'the time machine' to the that time when Picasso was making something. So we ARE watching him painting something. But at this moment he can't judge ~~. So the author uses 2nd conditional. That means he supposes counterfactually to that present[which is the past from the point now, though]. And this time machine also applies to the first sentence, which is focusing the moment "when he was~~". That moment should be always the past because the masterpiece was already made in the past.

If you are Korean watch this; https://youtu.be/wOkRu3IhjHw

보아하니 한국분 같으신데 저 강의는 제 강의입니다. 즉 가정하는 시점 관건인 것 같아요. 지금에서ㅠ지금이나 미래를 가정히면 당연히 가정법과거지만 과거지만 그 당시로 가서 가정한다면 역시 가정하는 시점이 그 당시 현재이기 때문이지 않을까요? 추가: 이걸 또 직설법 조건문으로 보는 분도 계시더라구요..그런데 아무리 생각해도 직설법 조건문이 될려면 주절에 조동사 과거형이 들어가면 안된다는 것이 제 생각입니다. 즉 If he could have more money, he bought the car. 에서 보면 주절에 조동사 과거형이 없기에 만약 그가 돈이 더 많았었으면 그는 차를 샀다(샀는지 안 샀는지 지금도 모르는 상황입니다)가 되고 거꾸로 가정해도 만약 돈이 없었다면 차를 못샀다(역시 샀는지 안 샀는지 모르는 상황입니다)가 제가 생각하는 수준입니다. 만약 여기에 주절에 조동사 과거형이 들어가면 애초 세팅 자체가 달라진다는 거죠. 즉 If he could have more money, he would buy the car. 가 되면 전제 자체가 현재(지금 말하는 시점-현재가 될 수 있고 과거의 한 시점이 될 수 있는데, 바로 저 피카소 문장은 과거의 한 시점이 되는 거죠) 그는 돈이 더 없다고 판단하고 이걸 가설적 상황(그럴리 없지만 가능함직한-추가 설명하면 가정법 과거는 가설적 상황과 반사실적 상황-불가능한 상황, 즉 예를 들면 내가 새라면 이라는 등의-을 섞어 씁니다-)을 가정하기에 암만 생각해도 직설법 조건문으로는 도저히 받아 들이기기가...게다가 가정법 과거를 접했을 때 그 유명한 공식, If S 과거형 동사 ~~, S 조동사과거형 동사원형 ~~.에서 이게 직설법 조건문으로 쓰일 수도 있다는 말을 들어본 적 없는 좁은 시야를 가진 사람 입장에서는 그렇다는 말씀입니다. 정말 그 가정법과거공식문장이 직설법과거로 쓰일 수도 있다는 출처만 있다면 좋겠습니다. 여기 이 사이트를 비롯한 외국 사람이 대답하는 것도 학교 영문법을 가르치는 전공자로서의 대답도 있겠지만 비전공 네이티브들의 대답이라 확 와닿는 면이 불안한 면이 있는 것도 사실입니다.


Well, the third conditional is supposed to go further in the past, or further than that moment. Here, that may not be the intended meaning.

The conditional in your example perfectly collocates with the interpretation as the backshifting of the second conditional doesn't necessarily result in the third conditional, especially in case we want to keep the same, initial meaning.

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