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I've always considered conditionals to have a condition and then a conditional outcome. But then I came up with these sentences:

If somebody found your phone, then that would explain how they found out about your address.

If he, indeed, found your keys, then that would explain how he got in.

If he wasn't ready, he shouldn't have married her.

Are these conditionals (and should be written with "had found/hadn't been ready") or are they not? "If somebody found your phone" is not a condition under which we would know "how they found out" -- it's more of an explanation.

To me, one doesn't come as a consequence of the other and that's why I'm getting confused (for example, the way it happens in a sentence like: if he hadn't lost his keys, he wouldn't be waiting outside now). Can someone double check these sentences?

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    Anything with if is a conditional.
    – Lambie
    Feb 2 at 15:32
  • @Lambie , 'I don't want to know if he's there or not.'. I know what you mean here but it's just not true, is it?
    – August99
    Feb 2 at 15:38
  • @Lambie , so you would you the past perfect in all of them?
    – August99
    Feb 2 at 15:39
  • No, why use past perfect? That would change the meaning to the past tense in a conditional clause.
    – Lambie
    Feb 2 at 15:42
  • @Lambie Sorry. I was confused, now I'm even more confused. So are these conditional clauses or not? My tutor told my these were conditionals and, thus, I should use the past perfect; but you are suggesting the opposite while agreeing that they are conditionals. I feel like I should know it but I don't get it. Sorry. How would that change their meaning?
    – August99
    Feb 2 at 15:49

2 Answers 2

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I think you're focusing on a 'conditional' being a strict cause and effect.

All of your examples involve a condition from the past that may have already happened or be the case, but is unknown.

In the first two, I think you are incorrectly assuming that the condition (someone having found a phone/keys) has the results of someone knowing an address or getting in a person's house as their ultimate effect. That isn't what is being said. The condition is that, if those items had been found by someone then there exists an explanation of how they knew the person's address or got inside their house. If that possible condition isn't the case, then the condition isn't met and an explanation doesn't exist. It doesn't change the events that already happened - they are not conditional on anything.

Conditionals, particularly the 'past' conditional, can be hypothetical. That is the case in the last example - someone is asserting an opinion that they believe should hypothetically have happened if a certain condition is true. The condition cannot change the fact the person in question already got married - that can't change, so is not conditional. This is like saying "if I find out you've been lying, I'll be angry".

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  • I think I'm getting it slowly. But I even though I can see how that can applied to the keys example, I'm still not entirely sure about the other one with "if he wasn't ready". I gave this example earlier: (a) - I feel sorry for her because she deserves a better man. (b) - He wasn't ready to stay committed. (a) - If he wasn't ready, he shouldn't have married her. // I feel like here it's a totally different scenario. But maybe I need to come back to this tomorrow. I just got stuck and I might need some time. Sorry
    – August99
    Feb 2 at 17:11
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This conditional is said at some time in the present and so is the conditional with the present tense:

If somebody found your phone, then that would explain how they found out about your address.

Present tense: a possibility
If somebody finds your phone, then that explains how they might find your address.

Past tense: less of a possibility
If he, indeed, found your keys, then that would explain how he got in.

Present tense: If he, indeed, finds your keys, then that would explain how he gets in every week.

If he wasn't ready, he shouldn't have married her.

Present tense:
If he isn't ready, he shouldn't marry her.

NOW, there is also past possibility; something that might have happened in the past. This is the one that uses the past perfect:

If somebody had found your phone, then that would have explained how they found out about your address.

If he, indeed, had found your keys, then that would explain how he got in.

If he hadn't been ready, he wouldn't have married her.

[Please note: This explanation does not include mixed conditionals.]

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  • Thanks, but what about the following conversation: (a) - I feel sorry for her because she deserves a better man. (b) - He wasn't ready to stay committed. (a) - If he wasn't ready, he shouldn't have married her. (Saying if he hadn't been ready -- would it make sense in this context?) Or: (a) - I have no idea how he found a way in. (b) - What if he found the keys you lost a while back? If he, indeed, found your keys, then that would explain how he got in.
    – August99
    Feb 2 at 16:09
  • I just don't see them as conditions because to me they logically aren't (but I'm not smart so that could explain it)
    – August99
    Feb 2 at 16:09
  • @August99 I really think I have done for you what I could and now you list a bunch of other stuff?? Anyway, if you read my examples carefully, you will see I basically answered a). There are two possibilities there: wasn't ready and hadn't been ready.
    – Lambie
    Feb 2 at 16:11
  • I'm sorry. I'm slow to understand these things. I do appreciate your help, I just get confused about what's in the past tense versus what happened in the past. For example, if he wasn't ready - it could be a conditional about how 'he' feels now and it could also be about something that was true in the past (if he wasn't ready then, why would he be ready now?). That's where my doubts come from. Both can work, but when I read "past tense: less of a possibility" -- Im not sure if it would apply to the conversation example I mentioned in my other example. I'm sorry, I just want to understand it
    – August99
    Feb 2 at 16:46
  • Don't confuse the verb after If. The minute there is If + past perfect, everything refers to a past time. How he feels NOW can be TWO different forms: If he isn't ready, he won't go.||If he wasn't ready, he wouldn't go. Aren't those two clear?
    – Lambie
    Feb 2 at 16:54

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