If used to express presumption in past time, shouldn't if you had be if you had had? That is, if expressing unreal past situations, the sentence should have the structure 'if S + had p.p. ~, S + would have p.p.? Why not in the passage?

The chief way in which innovation changes our lives is by enabling people to work for each other. As I have argued before, the main theme of human history is that we become steadily more specialized in what we produce, and steadily more diversified in what we consume: we move away from precarious self-sufficiency to safer mutual interdependence. By concentrating on serving other people’s needs for forty hours a week — which we call a job — you can spend the other seventy-two hours (not counting fifty-six hours in bed) drawing upon the services provided to you by other people. Innovation has made it possible to work for a fraction of a second in order to be able to afford to turn on an electric lamp for an hour, providing the quantity of light that would have required a whole day’s work if you had to make it yourself by collecting and refining sesame oil or lamb fat to burn in a simple lamp, as much of humanity did in the not so distant past.

How Innovation Works And Why It Flourishes in Freedom

  • Strictly speaking, if you had to make it yourself should be if you would have had to make it yourself. Which is normally contracted and enunciated as if you'd have HAT to make it yourself, (and if pressed to "expand" it, I personally would say if you had have had to make it yourself, but some people wouldn't like that! :). Bear in mind your example is very complicated, because it involves "unreal" Past tense with modal would AND "obligation" (to have / HAFF to do X = to be obliged to do X). Both difficult areas for learners! Aug 2, 2023 at 14:51

1 Answer 1


Tenses in conditionals are tricky!

Textbooks will tell you about "first condition", "second condition", and "third condition", which are good guidelines, but not always what all speakers will do.

In this case, however, the "condition" rules give a correct understanding of the time frame.

The precedent, "if you had to make it yourself..." is simple past, and we are not talking about an event that actually happened. This is therefore a "third conditional". Therefore, the present perfect is used in the consequent: "would have required".

Even though the consequent comes before the precedent in the sentence, it is the times sense of the precedent that determines the "condition".

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