I came across this exercise with my young students. An official German school-book in use. Here we exercise the "Conditional type 2" where it says:

"If I went to a school in Wales, I would play rugby"

Can this be correct? shouldn't it be: "I would have played rugby"

Something feels wrong :-)

textbook with the quoted sentence

  • "If I had been to a school in Wales, I would have played rugby". May 16, 2023 at 19:51
  • 4
    If the speaker is a current student in Deutschland, went and would are fine. That's present counterfactual. If the speaker is an adult and is speaking of their school days in Deutschland, had gone and would have are appropriate. Those are perfect counterfactuals. May 16, 2023 at 20:00
  • In my understanding, and even when I translate it literally to German, there are two different times. "If I went = past" versus " I would" - Translating this into German sounds like humbug.
    – FrankMK
    May 16, 2023 at 20:13
  • 1
    Note that originally would was the past tense of will and could the past tense of can. So there is in a sense a match between the two halves of the sentences in the book.
    – Henry
    May 16, 2023 at 20:21
  • To me, the sentence sounds wrong. Unless, of course, all people who went to school in Wales are legally required to play rugby when asked.
    – mankowitz
    May 16, 2023 at 20:28

5 Answers 5


The sentence is fine if the intention is to express a counterfactual about the present. The use of the article a, lack of contractions, lack of context, etc. might give the sentence a slightly unnatural sound to some ears. It may help to imagine a colloquial conversation that could motivate such an utterance:

A: If you're so interested in rugby, why don't you play it?

B: Because no one else I know is interested.

A: Really? In Wales kids play rugby every day at recess.

B: Well, if I went to school in Wales, I'd play rugby. But here football is about as close as you're gonna get.

  • In your conversation, what exactly does I'd play rugby mean? Does it mean your personal preference or something else in the hypothetical situation?
    – JK2
    May 17, 2023 at 1:54
  • @JK2 It means you would be playing rugby because you'd have the opportunity to do so (as opposed to just the desire).
    – RTF
    May 17, 2023 at 2:50
  • Then, shouldn't we say Well, if I went to school in Wales, I'd be playing rugby instead?
    – JK2
    May 17, 2023 at 2:57
  • 1
    You could. Both variations are possible, the differences between them being too slight to warrant getting into really.
    – RTF
    May 17, 2023 at 2:59

When the simple past is used in the if-clause, it doesn't mean that the condition refers to the past. We use this syntax to express a condition about the present. To express a condition about the past, we use the past perfect in the if-clause:

Present counterfactual: If I went ...

Past counterfactural: If I had gone ...

  • Hi Barmer, I never came across such an expressions like in that schoolbook. Personally, I would not use this form. So a "pastform of Verb" to describe a current, present situation. I think the most non native English students worldwide will be confused by this. It leads to misconceptions. Whereby: "If I had been to a school in Wales, I would have played rugby" is easy to comprehend. If the phrase in the book wants to express a present situation, then it should be: If I would attend a school in Wales, I would play rugby.
    – FrankMK
    May 17, 2023 at 9:01
  • Must be a BrE vs AmE difference, because I don't think I've ever heard an American phrase it that way.
    – Barmar
    May 17, 2023 at 16:40
  • @FrankMK He's right, this is not a past tense. "If I went" is a conditional counterfactual; "If I had been to a school in Wales, I would have played rugby" [past conditional]///"If I went to a school in Wales, I would play rugby". present but a condition. If you wanted to, you would look up this conditional usage: if clause in the simple past, main clause would + infinitive.
    – Lambie
    May 18, 2023 at 14:49

There's nothing wrong with "If I went to a school in Wales, I would play rugby".

Apparently, the book assumes that the speaker currently goes to a school in Germany, and therefore that the speaker will not play rugby because it's not a readily available option to a school student in Germany. Based on this current state of affairs in the actual world where the speaker resides, the speaker can choose to describe an alternate world where the speaker goes to a school in Wales, where playing rugby is an option readily available to school students.

Since this alternate world does not share space-time with the actual world, the speaker feels remoteness in describing situations in the alternate world, which is reflected in the past form of the verbs went and would.

shouldn't it be: "I would have played rugby"

This form should be used to describe a past situation in the alternate world. But there's no contextual reason to use a more complicated form in the grammar book.


In matters scholastic, go to is an idiomatic expression for attend:

I go to a school in WalesI attend a school in Wales.

Applied in your sentence, you get:

If I attended a school in Wales, I would play rugby.

Now, I think you can see that this is simply a counterfactual (“subjunctive mood”) construction:

If I attended a school in Wales [but I don’t], I would play rugby.

  • maybe "but I didn´t"
    – FrankMK
    May 17, 2023 at 8:47
  • 1
    No, @FrankMK — If I had attended a school in Wales [but I didn’t], I would have played rugby. May 17, 2023 at 13:53

best expression,

I think this expression would not lead to misconceptions !!

Also "When I went ..." describes a past situation.

  • Many native speakers, including me as a BrE native speaker, regard "would" in the "if-clause" as non-standard. The use of the past tense in other contexts than talking about the past is in evidence in statements such as: "She said that she didn't like rap music". Or "I thought it might be a good idea to talk about it." Both past tenses refer to present states.
    – Shoe
    May 19, 2023 at 7:14

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