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Let's say you are 20 years of age and a person tells you:

  1. "You would have been a genius, if you could speak 10 languages at 5 years old"

  2. "You would have been a genius, if you had been able to speak 10 languages at 5 years old"

  3. "You would be a genius, if you could speak 10 languages at 5 years old"

  4. "You would be a genius, if you had been able to speak 10 languages at 5 years old"

I wonder which options are correct in this case.

I know that many English speakers also may say "If you could have spoken" / "If you would have been able to speak", but I'm interested in the prescriptive grammar.

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    For the verb speak, talking to somebody is dynamic, but being able to use a language is stative. A native speaker would not use "could have spoken" to mean "could speak".
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 3 at 1:10
  • I'm thinking about this pattern "Perfect Modal + if + Past Perfect" since I'm talking about something that wasn't the case in the past, I don't see how it's possible to use the verb "can" in the past perfect tense unless I change it to "be able to".
    – Rusletov
    Aug 3 at 6:23
  • "you would be a genius, if you could speak 10 languages [now]" is totally fine, since I'm talking about the present hypothetical situation. But as far as I know, one should use "Perfect Modal + if + Past Perfect" for the situation they would like to have turned differently in the past, as in "you would have been happier [then], if she had given you a Ferrari [for your last birthday]".
    – Rusletov
    Aug 3 at 6:29
  • There is no need to change can to past perfect in the five languages sentence, because speak is stative, so "could" is fine. Give is not stative, so your ferrari example is correct but irrelevant.
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 3 at 6:39
  • How about this one? "you would have been happier, if she had been there that night". "be" is also stative, following this reasoning it should be "if she was there that night"
    – Rusletov
    Aug 3 at 10:37
-1

The first one is not correct. Like you mentioned, it should be: "You would have been a genius if you could have spoken 10 languages at 5 years old." Because the first phrase is past conditional, the second phrase must also be past conditional--a state in the past exist because of a condition in the present. The verb tense agreement isn't necessary the other way around (like in the 4th example) because a current state can exist because of a condition in the past.

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  • The first sentence is correct. In conditionals, the second clause does not have to match the tense of the first. "Speak" meaning to know a language is stative, so it is perfectly OK to say "could speak" in this context.
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 3 at 1:13

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