The following is from a movie on YouTube called "A Date With The Unknown" (a link to that moment):

Tommy was the prosecutor in Rusty's trial. During the trial Rusty's computer was presented as evidence by his defence. The judge was going to acquit Rusty until it became known that someone had messed with the computer to make it seem like Rusty wasn't guilty. Rusty said that he did it himself. The prosecutor couldn't prove that Rusty was guilty of the crime he had supposedly committed, but since Rusty had admitted to tampering with the evidence, the judge sentenced him to two years in prison. Some time later, the prosecutor realized that Rusty did what he did because he knew who messed with the computer and didn't want that person to be prosecuted. The prosecutor suspected that Rusty's son had actually tampered with the evidence and not Rusty, so he (the prosecutor) came to the prison cell where Rusty was serving his sentence and said to him:

I'll tell you what's bothering me. I have a son, and if someone came to me and said I could spend two years in the hole to save my kid's life, I would do that. I'd do that in a heartbeat. So if I was you, and I was convinced that somebody I loved had monkeyed with that computer I'd have fallen on my own sword, pled guilty just to end the whole thing.

The prosecutor used the simple past "was convinced." What we have here is a counterfactual scenario in the past for which we use the third conditional with the past perfect in the if-clause, so I wonder if he actually meant this:

If I were you, and if I had been convinced at the time of the trial that somebody I loved had monkeyed with that computer, I would've pled guilty just like you did.

Does my version with the past perfect work in this context?

  • 1
    He spoke less formally, but one may suppose he 'meant' what you suggest (the way ESL students are taught). Commented Feb 21 at 11:06
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    Convinced can be an adjective or a past participle. "I was convinced" is an adjectival use.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 21 at 14:24

1 Answer 1


What you're dealing with here is, in fact, a case of mixed conditionals. It's a situation where structures known from the "standard" conditionals are combined with one another to express a counterfactual/hypothetical statement beyond a single tense.

You can see that the prosecutor starts his sentence with "If I was you", which indicates the second conditional. He then continues to use this conditional; to see it better you can imagine there's an additional if, i.e.: "If I was you and (if) I was convinced...". After that, as you correctly observed, he uses the "would have" structure of the third conditional.

The second conditional is used at the beginning of that sentence because the prosecutor is talking about a present-moment hypothetical that would have had an effect on a situation in the past. In other words, he suggests that if these two things were true now, he would have pled guilty in the past.

Now, your suggestion works, too, but mostly because you added the "at the time of the trial" part, which wasn't part of the original script. It places the entire sentence firmly in the past. Without that part, it's better to stick to the mixed conditional as used in the movie.

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