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Could someone help me understand what’s the difference between these two sentences?

A. I would never have understood what he had meant if you hadn’t told me.

B. I would never have understood what he meant if you hadn’t told me.

The context is someone said something a while back and someone else explained what the first person had meant by that. But anyway I would like to understand the difference between the two regardless of which fits better in said context

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In context, the two have the same effective meaning, but are framed in different ways. It makes no real difference, but in case you're curious, I'll break it down.

To make it less confusing with all the different past times and unreal clauses, I'm going to remove the unreal conditional and shift it to the present:

A2. Now I understand what he meant, but only because you explained it to me.

B2. Now I understand what he means, but only because you explained it to me.

This might be enough for you to see that the difference in only in the framing of the situation.

In A2, the situation is framed like this: first he spoke, then you told me the meaning, and now I understand his meaning at the time he spoke.

In B2, the situation is framed like this: first he spoke, then you told me the meaning, and now I understand what he still means.

You might prefer to use A2 if "he" is unlikely to still have that idea now, like if it was a long time ago, he's changed his mind, or he's dead. In the same way, you might prefer to use B2 if "he" still has that idea now, like if he just recently said it, or it's something he's likely to continue thinking. But in the end, it's still correct to use A2 about someone who just spoke, and you can use B2 about someone who's been dead for a thousand years.

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  • Would this one be correct if he still has that idea now (or he just recently said it): I would never have understood what he means if you hadn’t told me.?
    – Mr. X
    Dec 20, 2021 at 10:00
  • I’m not sure if the sentence is correct, but I would use ‘would’ with ‘means’ because it sounds better
    – Alon
    Dec 20, 2021 at 12:39
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    @Mr.X Yes, that means exactly the same as B2.
    – gotube
    Dec 20, 2021 at 21:06

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