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Which would be correct here and why?

If I could go back in time, a time when I wasn't born/hadn't been born/didn't exist yet, I would...

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    Obligatory Douglas Adams reference. (Note to learners: this is fictional satire, not real grammar, but it's a very fun read.)
    – TypeIA
    Jul 10 at 11:47
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    I think you need 'to a time'. If I could go back in time, to a time before I was born, I would... Or just, If I could go back to a time before I was born, I would... I prefer the first. The repetition of the word 'time' - with the comma - seems to make the sense clearer. Jul 10 at 12:40
  • @OldBrixtonian thank you! Does it mean that saying 'to a time when I wasn't born/hadn't been born/didn't exist yet' is wrong and we need to say 'to a time before I was born'?
    – i_yre_b
    Jul 11 at 11:06
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    @i_yre_b@ Asked by a child "Do you remember VE Day/the Civil War/the last ice age?" most people (in the UK) would probably say, "No. That was before I was born/long before I was born/long, long before I was born." "Before I was born" is colloquial and grammatically correct. "to a time when I wasn't born", though the grammar's OK, sounds awkward. You weren't born yesterday, so yesterday was also a time when you weren't born. "To a time when I hadn't been born" is grammatically sound but it's overstating an easy thought: "To a time before I was born" is more natural. ... Jul 11 at 17:05
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    @i_yre_b: "To a time when I didn't exist yet" is grammatically poor. "To a time when I didn't yet exist" is grammatically better. Again, it's an overstatement of an easy thought. That's the best I can do without knowing the context. Jul 11 at 17:08
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A time when I hadn't been born and A time when I wasn't alive are both correct.

A time when I wasn't born is incorrect. Obviously the labor and birthing process is not instantaneous, but compared to the length of someone's life it is nearly so, and in any case it is not a continuous state of being the way "being alive" is.

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  • Thank you, Randomhead! How about 'didn't exist'? 'Wasn't alive' sounds as if I was dead. :)
    – i_yre_b
    Jul 11 at 11:08

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