Let's consider this situation: There was a test last Monday and I cheated on that test, so I tell a friend:

If the teacher found out, they would fail me.

and I also wanna tell my friend that the teacher might imply that they've found out about it and given me a fail grade already by winking, so I say:

If the teacher winked at me, that would mean they had failed me already.

does the last sentence express what I want to express?, if not, how do I express that in english?

Another example:

If the teacher winked at me, I would know that they had failed me already

would the sentence above be correct even if at the moment of speaking the teacher hasn't failed me yet?, or does the action (failed) have to be done by the moment of speaking in order for the sentence to be correct?.

I'm assuming that the sentences above describe things that could happen, even if not probable.

  • If God spoke to me, I would know that He existed. But I can't for the life of me see any difference in meaning, logic, OR "grammaticality" if I change that to ...I would know that He exists. It's just that we usually "backshift" in such contexts (same as He said his name was Smith, even though it still is at time of utterance). Mar 22 at 17:51
  • @FumbleFingers So backshifting can take place even when talking about situations that didn't happen?, do we use backshifting with the 2nd conditional? (conditionals about situations that aren't happening and probably won't). "He said his name was Smith" is an action that did happen.
    – simple
    Mar 23 at 2:43
  • I don't understand what you're asking, but I doubt "numbered conditionals" are relevant here (they're a pretty worthless syntactic concept, imho). In your example If the teacher winked at me, that would mean they had failed me already, that initial if- condition could in principle be a reference to something that happened regularly in the past. But you've given enough context that we know you're talking about a hypothetical future (same as my If God spoke to me...). Mar 23 at 14:22
  • ...note that although I'm quite happy with if + Past Tense in my "God" example, it could have been expressed using Present Tense: If God speaks to me, I will know that He exists. By the same token, your example could be phrased as If the teacher winks at me, that will mean they have failed me already. For reasons I'm not quite sure of right now, I think although both versions are fine for my example, yours works much better using Present rather than Past tense for the initial if- clause. Mar 23 at 14:27

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