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I'm trying to figure out the difference between Conditional and Subjunctive in the context of describing unrealistic situations. Do I understand correctly that the pairs of expressions below are grammatically correct and have the same meaning?

  • If he had lived on the Moon, I would have bought a car.
  • If he live on the Moon, I would buy a car.

  • I wish it should be real
  • I wish it were real.
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  • Welcome! Please edit the question to tell what you already understand about conditionals and the subjunctive. And are you perhaps missing a word? The second sentence is in no way grammatical. Feb 10, 2022 at 19:15
  • I think the second example is "grammatical" (subjunctive), but no living Anglophone would be likely to use it today. We use EITHER Present + Future in such contexts - If he lives on the Moon, I will buy a car OR Past + Conditional If he lived on the Moon, I would buy a car. Feb 10, 2022 at 19:21
  • If he live on the Moon, I hope he likes green cheese is structurally the same as If it be true, [blah blah]. Feb 10, 2022 at 19:25
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    I don't know where you got your definitions or terminology, but you do not understand correctly. Two of your sentences are ungrammatical, for starts; and both conditional and subjunctive are terms used by many people in many contradictory ways. It's best to avoid both of them and describe constructions by their parts. Feb 10, 2022 at 19:59

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The first rule of the English subjunctive is "don't use the subjunctive". It is mostly archaic. There are some set phrases and a few situations where the subjunctive may be used. But for the most part, the subjunctive is something to study when you learn Anglo-Saxon, not English.

Now to your sentences. They are all odd.

The first has a past perfect in the condition, "had lived". This is a counterfactual condition. It speaks of a condition that describes a past that did not exist. It is natural to pair this past condition with a "would have" conclusion.

The first example is correct English, but very odd, as there is no natural connection between him living on the moon, and your purchase of a car.

The second seems to be an attempt at a subjunctive. It is not modern English. It probably refers to a future condition, so is different from the counterfactual past tense condition in the first sentence. But as it isn't modern English, it is hard to be sure.

The third sentence seems to use the "should" subjunctive. It doesn't really work. You can form subjunctive sentences "If it should be real". But the first rule says that there are better ways to express this.

The last sentence uses the "were" subjunctive. This is one of the exceptions. It is still fairly common, however you could also say "I wish it was real". Beginners can use "I wish it was real", but advanced learners should also recognise that sometimes native speakers use "were" in this situation.

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  • Thanks! If I understand correctly now, to express the less likely situation in the first and second cases it is appropriate to say - If he lived on the Moon, I would buy a car. I'm not taking into account the odd meaning of the phrase :) In the third and fourth cases it works - I wish it were real, but it is appropriate to say I wish it was real, it may not be 100% grammatically correct, but it does not distort the meaning of what is said and is clear to the listener. Am I right?
    – Aleksei
    Feb 11, 2022 at 12:28

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