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I was writing this sentence:

If people were not there for their friends when they need them the most, the world wouldn't be a nice place to live.

I know that according to the rule of second conditional the first part should be in simple past and in the second we should use would. However, saying needed in my sentence would make it sound to me as if I was talking about a past event when in fact I am talking about a hypothetical situation.

What is the correct tense that I should use in this sentence?

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    Technically speaking, ...when they needed them most. Your Present Tense version would work better if you'd started with If people are not there for their friends... (in which case it would end with ...the world won't / will not be a nice place to live). Both versions are fine, so long as you're consistewnt with the tenses. Note that the were version isn't actually Past Tense - it's subjunctive / unreal (people are in fact nice, so not being nice is an unreal hypothetical situation). Apr 16 at 13:05
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    (I think this is one of those contexts where thinking about "numbered conditionals" isn't particularly helpful. But I think that about every context! :) Apr 16 at 13:16
  • @FumbleFingers Got it! Thank you so much for your very helpful comment!
    – Mohammad
    Apr 16 at 13:36
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    Most native speakers who are not linguists don't even know what 'numbered conditionals are'. I have to look them up. Apr 16 at 14:08

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