1

Can you please explain to me why this following sentence uses Past Perfect when we have a hypothetical current situation? From what I read when we have sentences with Supposing/Imagine (functioning as conditionals) and they refer to a hypothetical situation for the present it has to be with Past Simple instead?

Here's the sentence:

Imagine we had just been told that a huge meteor was on its way to earth. What would be the best thing to do?

Another example from the same lesson (which is according to what I read) has it in the following way:

What if you were given three wishes by a genie in a bottle? What would you wish for?

In this case the hypothetical current situation is realized with Past Simple.

1
  • Imho it makes absolutely no difference whether your example starts with Past Perfect Imagine we had just been told that a huge meteor was on its way... OR Present Perfect Imagine we have just been told that a huge meteor is on its way... But you need a Perfect form (I think because being told [something] is a "passive" construction). Without that Passive constraint, the choices are between Simple Past Imagine we knew that a huge meteor was on its way... OR Simple Present Imagine we know that a huge meteor is on its way... Nov 25 '21 at 16:43
0

The sentence asks us to imagine a time when, (shortly) before that time something was said to us.

The timeframe we are asked to consider is a past time when something had already happened. This is why the past perfect is used. The sentence could be rephrased to avoid the past perfect, but it is natural to use it in this context.

Again in the second sentence, it could be phrased using the past perfect

Imagine you had been given three wishes. . .

This doesn't make the past tense wrong. At most it changes the nuance of the sentence.

In many sentences it is possible to use both past and past perfect, and the only difference is nuance.

1
  • Thank you for your answer, James K. If I understood correctly, the moment we had been told is before the moment of reaction ("just")? And that is why Past Perfect is the answer here. What I still don't understand is - you mentioned we could still use Past Simple if we rephrased it, but when I asked my teacher, she said that Past Simple cannot be used at all here for this particular sentence. How would you rephrase it?
    – StandQuick
    Jun 20 '21 at 19:27
0

"Imagine [if] we had just been told that a huge meteor was on its way to earth. What would be the best thing to do?"

Affirmative:

We had just been told that a huge meteor was on its way to earth. All this is recounting about the past.

had just been told is the past perfect in passive form.

Why? Because the meteor was on its way before we were told. It is not a "current situation". It refers to something that was unreal in a past situation.

Compare that to: We have just been told that a meteor is on its way to Earth. This one is a "current situation".

  • What if you were given three wishes by a genie in a bottle? What would you wish for?

were given is the passive form of "gave you". Simple past and passive.

If a genie in a bottle gave me a wish, I would save it for later.

Often called the "second conditional", it consists of a simple past in the if clause [protasis] and a would + bare verb in the second clause [apodosis]. It is stated in the simple past to refer to a situation that does not exist.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .