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The following is a conditional sentence from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings:

"His arm has grown long indeed," said Gimli, "if he can draw snow down from the north to trouble us here three hundred leagues away."

If I am not mistaken this is present condition/past result. Now, when I looked up the conditional rules in English there are no rules that fit this structure. I am talking about the 0, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and mixed conditionals.

Can anyone clarify this and provide a reference that aupports this grammar? It sounds idiomatic to me, but I am not a native speaker.

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    The first clause is present perfect; the second uses a present tense modal (can), so the entire sentence is in the present.
    – Zan700
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 21:29
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    Yes, though it is also permissible to say that modal auxiliaries have no tense; they used to, and they still do in German, but in English they're uninflected auxiliaries. Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 22:45
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    English does not have "numbered" conditionals. Indeed, there are hundreds of possibilities. What you think you looked up simply isn't true. Therefore it's fine.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 1:37
  • @tchrist that is a big list. I went through it and didn't find a version for this example sentence: Saruman's arm would have grown long indeed if he thinks he can reach us here. Would you say this is idiomatic? Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 19:48

2 Answers 2

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Two things. First, present perfect is a present tense. It makes reference to events in the past, but the meaning is always about the present. In this case, "His arm has grown long indeed" has the present meaning of "His arm is long now", so this is what's commonly known as "first conditional".

Second, the list of "mixed conditionals" is very, very long. There is probably no complete list anywhere on the Internet. The only important thing when constructing a conditional sentence is whether it makes sense. Let's change the result truly into the past and take a look:

"His arm grew long indeed," said Gimli, "if he can draw snow down from the north to trouble us here three hundred leagues away."

In this new sentence, it still makes sense that Gimli can draw a conclusion about the past, "his arm grew long", based on information in the present, "he can draw snow down from the north".

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There are no conditional "rules". The numbered conditionals that are often taught to learners of the English language are simply common combinations of verb constructions in the protasis (if-clause) and apodosis (main clause) of conditional sentences.

An alternative way to conceive of conditional sentences is through the semantic lens rather than through the traditional (in EFL teaching) syntactic lens. The Grammar Book An ESL / EFL Teacher's Course (p548) has a Semantic Hierarchy of Conditional Sentence Types. It comprises more than twenty nodes, one of which is Implicit Inference Conditionals, which are a subset of Factual Conditionals.

The sentence you are asking about appears to fulfill the criteria of this conditional type. Here is an extract from The Grammar Book's explanation of Implicit Inference Conditionals.

Factual conditionals that express an implicit inference are different from generic or habitual factuals in that they express inferences about specific time-bound relationships. As such, they make use of a much wider range of tense and aspect markers, and they also occur with certain modal auxiliaries.

... implicit inference factuals tend to maintain the same tense and aspect or the same modal in both clauses—even though they make use of a much wider range of tenses and auxiliary verbs.

In "His arm has grown long indeed," said Gimli, "if he can draw snow down from the north to trouble us here three hundred leagues away" the implicit inference is that his arm has grown long, which is based on the fact that he can draw/has drawn snow down from the north.

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