Example 1

We went to a meeting yesterday. We could ask questions if we had.

Example 2

We went to a meeting yesterday. We would ask questions if we had any.

Are the conditionals in the examples past real conditionals?

Are they of correct usage?

  • These are both artificial examples created by the OP, that don't reflect what native speakers would normally say. I think that makes it Off Topic Proofreading. Mar 24 at 20:10
  • Instead of asking us to affix grammatical labels to utterances which are not idiomatic, and so their intended meaning is not clear, why not tell us what you are trying to say.
    – TimR
    Mar 25 at 13:23

1 Answer 1


The first example doesn't work. Leaving out the object of "had" makes it read as "if we had [gone to the meeting]", but you've said that you went, so it doesn't make sense.

Assuming you intended "had any", like the second example:

We went to a meeting yesterday. We could ask questions if we had any.

is possible and reads as meaning "We were allowed to/had an opportunity to ask questions if we had any", and doesn't say anything about whether we actually asked any questions (though if you had, it would be much more natural to say so, so there is an implication that you didn't). So it is a "past real conditional" (if that means what I think it does); but "could" is acting as the past of "can" rather than as an indpendent modal.

We went to a meeting yesterday. We would ask questions if we had any.

reads very strangely. I can just about read it as an unusual variant of the much more natural:

We went to a meeting yesterday. We would have asked questions if we [had] had any.

but it's awkward. "Would" in the past is usually only used in a habitual sense, eg

When I used to go to meetings of the Parish Council, I would ask questions if I had any.

(Note that in my amended version the second "had" is formally required, but English speakers often avoid the past perfect when the temporal relations are clear without it).

  • Thank you. So, if it is something that very short like a meeting and I want to say like it's a past real condition, I can't use "would", then what should I use? Used to? Or just the simple past like "We went to the amusement park yesterday. We lined up for rides if the staff said we were allowed to pay a concession price."
    – vincentlin
    Mar 24 at 16:11
  • "‎I went to a meeting yesterday. I would brainstorm with the participants if we encountered a difficulty." I don't know why but I feel like in this case the "would" can be considered as a correct here in this past real conditional. What do you think?
    – vincentlin
    Mar 24 at 16:18
  • I think your brainstorming example is just about possible, but it's a garden path sentence: would so strongly suggests an unreal conditional, that I was expecting a "but" rather than an "if", and had to go back and reparse when I hit the "if". The other thing is that I find if odd for a context where it happened so I know whether we encountered a difficulty or not. When would be much more natural.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 24 at 17:28

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