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Let’s say I’m talking to a fellow student about whether or not we should take a certain test this semester or the next semester. We haven’t started to study for the test, so thus far no time has been wasted. Are both sentences correct, and am I right about the distinction between them?

  1. If I took the test and failed, studying for it would have been a waste of time.
  2. If I took the test and failed, studying for it would be a waste of time.

I think the first one is clearer about the fact that time would be wasted prior to failing, whereas the second one is clearer about the fact that the wasting of time would occur in the future if I decided to take the exam and if I failed. Thank you and happy new year!

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  • Does it make the analysis easier for you the sentences are in real conditional form: "If I take the test and fail, studying for it will have been a waste of time" and "If I take the test and fail, studying for it will be a waste of time"?
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 22:21
  • Not really, because your first sentence can’t be in the past (future perfect) whilst my first sentence can be about the past. I want to use the imaginary conditional since I all but decided not to take the test. So this “forward shifting” changes the sentences too much to help with the analysis in my opinion. What do you think about the distinction I made?
    – Alon
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 22:44
  • Because of the hypothetical structure of the second half of sentence 1, the whole sentence can only be about the hypothetical future, not the real past. To be about the past, it would have to either be real: "..., it was a waste of time", or hypothetical: "If I had taken the test and failed, ..."
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 2:01
  • I don’t necessarily agree, because in a sentence like “I would not have called if it weren’t important” you have an imaginary situation and the “would have” part can clearly refer to the past, can’t it?
    – Alon
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 7:09
  • That sentence means, "I called because it is important", where "call" happened in the past, and "is important" is true in the present. This example is a "mixed conditional" because the two clauses mix present and past times. Using "If it hadn't been important" instead makes the sentence entirely about the past.
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 7:27

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