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Which form should be used? Why? Both are about past situations.

In ancient China, you might be beheaded for a casual remark about the royal family.

In ancient China, you might have been beheaded for a casual remark about the royal family.

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  • 3
    I would say that either is possible. Jul 12, 2022 at 7:40
  • 1
    I would prefer 'a person' or 'someone' to 'you', since ancient China was a long time ago. Jul 12, 2022 at 11:22
  • @MichaelHarvey Couldn't "you" be used to refer to people in general?
    – Apollyon
    Jul 12, 2022 at 13:38
  • In modern French, you might be criticized for that usage. In modern French, you might have been criticized for that usage. The difference is this: The first tells you what might happen in the present and the second implies what might have happened in the past.
    – Lambie
    Oct 29, 2023 at 18:38
  • It's a matter of style: "you" and present tense work to put the reader in the position of someone in ancient China, but it's a bit less formal - suitable for popular history writing or something aimed at children. In an academic historical text you'd probably use "a person" (or probably be more precise and explain what kind of person) and past tense to identify what was factual.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 27 at 10:31

1 Answer 1

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Both are OK:

In ancient China, you might be beheaded for a casual remark about the royal family.

In ancient China, you might have been beheaded for a casual remark about the royal family.

FWIW, I would choose "could" (past tense of "can") instead of "might":

In China, you can be beheaded for....

In ancient China, you could be beheaded for...

In ancient China, you could have been beheaded for....

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