6

PEU. 256 and 426 says that

In most subordinate clauses, we use past tenses to express 'unreal' or conditional ideas:

If you asked me nicely, I might get you a drink.(second conditional)

But why not "If you had asked me nicely, I would have got you a drink."?(third conditional) It seems like one asked the other in the past. And what is the difference between those two sentences?

  • 1
    "If you had asked me nicely, I would have gotten you a drink."? is how I would say it. I don't get the quoted phrase as it is mixing past and present tenses. – user3169 Aug 26 '14 at 5:07
  • 3
    In BE gotten is ungrammatical. – Lucian Sava Aug 26 '14 at 5:39
  • 2
    "If you had asked me nicely, I would have got you a drink." <== that sounds like it's describing a situation that had occurred in the past. Consider: "If you had asked me nicely (an hour ago), (then) I would have got you a drink (an hour ago)." – F.E. Aug 26 '14 at 7:15
  • 2
    "If you asked me nicely, I might get you a drink.(second conditional)" <== while it seems that that sounds like something a person might say now, at the present time, when he doesn't think the other person will actually ask him nicely; or else it is suggesting that the other person better ask nicely or else he won't get a drink. – F.E. Aug 26 '14 at 7:22
  • So it's possible to use the second conditional "If you asked me nicely, I might get you a drink" instead of the first conditional "If you ask me nicely, I will get you a drink" to indicate possibility like the first conditional? – Santi Santichaivekin Aug 26 '14 at 7:28
9

Start by dismissing the ‘first / second / third conditional’ notion from consideration—that is a ‘baby rule’ for introducing beginners to conditional constructions.

The sentence given in your quote may mean two different things: it may be (1) a tentative (hypothetical) conditional in the present tense with future reference, or (2) an open (possible) conditional in the past tense with future-in-past reference. This ambiguity is resolved in the discourse context.

  • (1) If you asked me nicely, I might get you a drink; but right now you are behaving very rudely and you can get your own. —Here the past-form asked and might do not imply past reference but ‘modal remoteness’—that is, you are doubtful that the condition and its consequence will be realized.
  • (2) I told you then that if you asked me nicely, I might get you a drink. —Here the past-form verbs do imply past reference; the sentence represents backshifted If you ask me nicely I may get you a drink, which implies that at the time of utterance you regarded the condition and consequence as future possibilities.

  • Note, by the way, that the pre-backshift present-tense version may equally well be expressed as If you ask me nicely I might get you a drink if the MAY in the consequence clause represents possibility rather than permission. In that case, it will retain the same form, might, when backshifted. The use of modals is very complicated: it has been constantly changing for hundreds of years, and we are in the middle of what appears to be an acceleration of the change.

Your rewrite, however, will bear only one interpretation, a past counterfactual:

  • If you had asked me nicely, I would have got you a drink. —Here the ‘double past’ in both verb constructions (had asked, would have got) marks the sentence as both past-tense and modally remote. This is understood to mean a ‘condition contrary to fact’: on the past occasion of which you are speaking both the condition (your asking nicely) and its consequence (my getting you a drink) failed to occur.

As user3169 and Lucien Sava point out, this is the correct past participle of get in BrE but must be gotten in AmE.

  • 2
    +1 for just the very first sentence! +many for the rest of the answer. – oerkelens Aug 26 '14 at 12:03
  • @oerkelens you've actually forgotten to voye up! :p – Nico Aug 26 '14 at 12:49
  • @Nico There are days I shouldn't even be touching a computer. Those are usually the same days I do major database overhauls on production systems. Planning never was my forte. – oerkelens Aug 26 '14 at 13:13
1

user3169 is correct that "If you had asked me nicely, I would have gotten you a drink" is correct in Standard English. It sounds natural to my (American) ear.

But especially in informal conversation, "If you had asked me nicely, I would have got you a drink" is close enough that most people either would not notice, or would let it slide. Many Americans say it this way. It is only slightly incorrect. The fact that this usage seemed natural to you probably means that you are becoming fluent in contemporary English.

The usages of "get", "got", and "have" are currently changing. The formal rules for using these words are about 50 years out of date. In another 50 years, these formal rules might be as out of date as the rules for "who" and "whom".

  • Would you mind addressing the question in a neutral way, keeping AmE aside? That's because a non-native like me won't care a specific dialect but try to learn what goes correct to all ears! – Maulik V Aug 26 '14 at 5:42
  • 1
    @MaulikV If I had lived in India, England, Canada, and Australia, I might be able to make general statements. But as I have only lived in (several parts of) the United States, I can only speak from experience about American English. – Jasper Aug 26 '14 at 5:46
  • I'd say that something uncommon in any dialect is still okay to learn but something incorrect is certainly not. That is what the only point I'm concerned with. Unluckily, InE falls nowhere and attracts a lot of unfavorable judgement as I learn from my answers/questions here! I am a keen learner and just want to avoid it happening further. :) – Maulik V Aug 26 '14 at 6:02
  • 1
    The question is about second and third conditional, not about "got" and "gotten" – fluffy Aug 26 '14 at 6:55
  • 1
    Maulik - It is very common for people to say "In the US..." or "In the UK..." as part of an ELL/ELU answer. Contributors cannot be expected to "keep AmE aside" or "answer in a neutral way," because the language is different in different countries. Adding a polite qualifier such as "Many Americans say it this way" is essentially a way to state, This is how it is used in the US – but this might not apply in other locales. People who live in the UK (or India) can then make a comment as to whether it's the same or different where they live. Not everything "goes correct to all ears." – J.R. Aug 26 '14 at 10:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.