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I was reading the Angular.js documentation when I saw this:

Angular is what HTML would have been had it been designed for applications.

I've never seen a construction like this and I can't get neither the meaning nor the structure that is been used.

Could you explain it?

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    As a developer, I will also add, this statement is marketing - not technical truth. It is designed to sell the product and does not describe a feature. It's "fluff" and it's not important that you understand what the marketing team means by this, if you're a developer. – Jasmine Nov 20 '14 at 20:34
  • @Jasmine I disagree a little bit. I find that understanding the marketing of a product is important to knowing whether or not it's likely to be suitable for what I need to do. If I look at a product and it says "Like HTML, but in 3D!" and I have no need for 3D, I will look for something else. If my goal is to publish 3D visualizations, then maybe I will give it a closer look. – ColleenV Nov 20 '14 at 20:46
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    Sure yes, marketing messaging which describes actual features of the product is useful, but this is not such a statement. It is not important to understand it 'deeply' - I have seen this cause problems for developers who aren't native english speakers. They may put too much weight on these statements and invest in something that isn't as good as it sounds. That's the only reason I mention it - to help people understand what can be ignored and what you need to work to understand. – Jasmine Nov 20 '14 at 20:50
  • @Jasmine you're right, in that it's marketing, in that it's a little "catchier" and simple and elegant. But as a non-marketer I might say "Angular's design goal was to be what HTML would have been had it been designed for application," and I might have even said something negative like it's more like Angular was designed for lobsters. So marketing isn't quite what's going on here. – djechlin Nov 20 '14 at 21:05
  • I agree with Jasmine that this is marketing fluffery. It's not even particularly truthful marketing fluffery, because AngularJS has about a dozen competitors, so what are we to say about them? They weren't intended to be used for building applications? For an engineering field, software development sure has a lot of egomania, IMO. Regarding the English question itself, it's been answered well by Luke Willis below. – Calphool Nov 20 '14 at 21:28
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The sentence is a way of saying:

Angular is what HTML would have been if it had been designed for applications.

In general, phrases of the form "if [noun] [helping verb] [verb]" can be rewritten as "[helping verb] [noun] [verb]".

EDIT: As Colleen pointed out in her comment, helping verbs are also commonly called auxiliary verbs.

Examples:

  • If I had been there, I could have stopped it. -> Had I been there, I could have stopped it.
  • If John were taller, he could play basketball. -> Were John taller, he could play basketball.
  • If the dog would jump, he could escape. -> Would the dog jump, he could escape.
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    Very nice answer. I'm glad you addressed the construction of the sentence. You might add that "Helping verbs" are also known as "auxiliary verbs". Some references might not use both terms. – ColleenV Nov 20 '14 at 19:22
  • @ColleenV edited and credited. :) – Luke M Willis Nov 20 '14 at 19:38
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    And Ember is what it would have been if it had been designed by practical people ;) – Paul Nov 21 '14 at 1:53
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    Perhaps also worth mentioning is that the use of the subjunctive is mandatory here: "If John was taller, he could play basketball." is a sentence most people will probably accept, even if "were" is better. "Was John taller, he could play basketball." is not. – hvd Nov 21 '14 at 10:18
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There is nothing wrong with the sentence. It's perfectly grammatical.

Let's see one example

  1. A doctor is what he would have been had he had enough money to put himself through medical college. (If he had enough money to pay for the medical college fees, he would have been a doctor. Meaning he is not a doctor today.)

In your sentence (I'm not a technical person so i don't know what Angular is) it means that

If HTML had been designed for applications it would have been Angular. (It means that current HTML is not designed for applications)

We should put a comma to make that sentence more understandable like

Angular is what HTML would have been, had it been designed for applications.

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    Though I think @Luke Willis provided a sentence that flows more smoothly, & is easier to mentally process, your example is closer to the original statement. Both are excellent answers. I'm in a bit of a quandary as to how much to revise someone else's example statement without changing the meaning. Is it best to keep as close to the original sentence as one can, & let the OP figure out from there whether a rewrite is in order, or should one offer what he or she believes is optimum? – JimM Nov 20 '14 at 20:09
  • Let me apologize for the above comment. For good reasons, Stack X discourages posts that solicit opinion or provoke discussion. Still, it's important for members of a community to establish guidelines. Endless chatter? Not good. Positive, useful, & constructive contributions? Good. If Stack X provides a category where a post like this would be appropriate, please, direct me there. If my post is outright inappropriate, I'll remove it. – JimM Nov 20 '14 at 20:30
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    I think that allowing multiple highly rated answers is one of the best features of the SE network. I don't feel compelled to just up-vote one answer as the "best". Answers can be good in different ways and I think having a diversity of answers is a good thing. All of the great teachers I've had could explain the same concept in different ways and would use the way that was easiest for each student to understand. For some learners it may help to stay close to the original meaning, and others may find a complete re-wording useful. I just try to remember that I'm explaining, not editing. – ColleenV Nov 20 '14 at 20:57
  • @Jim I have gotten into the terrible habit of treating comments like a threaded discussion and neglecting to tag the person I'm replying to - my earlier comment was a reply to yours. Also, 5 minutes to edit isn't enough for someone whose attention is as non-linear as mine is :) – ColleenV Nov 20 '14 at 21:25
  • @ColleenV I certainly can't throw the first stone for any terrible habits. I'm baffled by the superior abilities of the ELL & ELU moderators & editors. They allow the multiple highly rated answers and diversity of answers you mentioned to proliferate, yet they maintain pleasantly readable & easily navigable pages. That's talent! – JimM Nov 20 '14 at 22:15

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