Sometimes I find it difficult to set my tenses correctly without sounding awkward. It is caused mostly by the fact that I tend to either not understand the rules for switching tenses or repeat modal verbs many times throughout the sentence.

Here's two sentences I've read just today. Both of them utilize the present tense despite the fact that they clearly relate to either unreal or past events.

  1. Imagine how people would react when they see how many mistakes you've made.

Why shouldn't I use "would see" in this one, instead of switching to the present tense all of the sudden?

  1. When I was a kid I remember my dad taking us to get lunch, then go play disc golf, soccer, or do something else free and fun.

Why is there a sudden switch in tenses? Doesn't it violate the tense consistency? This doesn't look like Historical Present to me.

But I also encountered a problem of my own, this time relating to the constant repetition of modals. I was playing a pretty old game with my mate, and I wanted to prove him I knew exactly what one of the characters would do.

  1. That guy will for some reason kick the ball in a second, and then the other guy will come and pick it up.

After all I felt like there were to many "wills" on the dance floor, but I have no idea how I could change it.

Similar situation happened when my SO told me our mutual friend was going to apply for a pretty difficult job. Over the course of our conversation I came up saying:

  1. I don't know if I would handle such a task, even if they would charge me with it.

Although I suppose this is the one instance where I know what I've done wrong: I should have used the second conditional instead of repeating "would" twice. I've mentioned it just to make sure.

The same problem with repeating verbs appears when I want to formulate sentences like:

  1. I will talk to him, but I will not try to convince him.

Is it possible to drop the second "will", or basically any other modal verb, in such cases?

  1. I will talk to him, but not try to convince him.

It's a pretty long question, but I hope you'd still be willing to help me and able to do so.

  • Do you have sources for #1 and 2? Such as more text or a link to where they occur?
    – user6951
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 1:49
  • Unfortunately they were just short comments on Reddit.
    – Bebop B.
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 7:05

1 Answer 1


Lemme try to give you some useful answers before this gets closed for having too many questions in one post!

  1. You're quite right that this is odd, and you put your finger on why. The when clause implies confidence that people will see your mistakes; but you are called upon to imagine how they would react in a hypothetical situation. Probably what is meant is

    Imagine how people would react when if they saw how many mistakes you've made. (Your mistakes, presumably, are factual; what is hypothetical is people seeing them.)

    But it could also be a factual rather than a hypothetical:

    Imagine how people would will react when they see how many mistakes you've made.

    The writer just needs to make up her mind which she means.

  2. There's nothing wrong with this; you're just misparsing. You remember your dad taking you to

    a) getinfinitive lunch, then
    b) goinfinitive play ... or
    c) do infinitive something else ...

    You may have a lurking feeling that it should be that you remember your dad

    a) taking you to get ... then
    b) going to play ... or
    c) doing something else ...

    That's fine, too; but it talks about what your dad did, not what he took you to do.

  3. This is a future narrative, so you have a 'Reference Time' constantly moving forward, just like a past narrative:

    PAST:      This guy did this, then that guy did that, then the last guy did ...
    FUTURE: This guy will do this, then that guy will do that, then the last guy will ...

  4. Again, you're right, and you understand why: will and would are only permitted in a condition clause under very specific circumstances, which aren't present here. What you want (as you probably know) is:

    I don't know if I would handle such a task, even if they would charge charged me with it.

  5. and 6. are both fine. 5 is really no different from 3, it just conjoins clauses with but; and 6 is the same thing, but with the repetition of I will 'stripped' out, leaving only what is different in the second clause.

I think you understand this better than you give yourself credit for. You appear to recognize actual mistakes better than many native speakers (like whoever wrote #1), and your anxieties about 3 and 5-6 probably derive from the fact that sequential and conjunct futures like this really don't arise very often, so you haven't gotten used to them.

I write her not to be gender-balanced, much less sexist, but because this sounds like somebody's mother.

  • 1
    #2 the adverbial when I was a kid seems out of place. If it applies to the three actions, it would work better after I remember, wouldn't it. I suppose there is something going on, it doesn't look like topic introduction, or is it?
    – user6951
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 1:57
  • 3
    @CarSmack You're quite right; but it has the smack of spoken English, which is apt to throw down its notions every which-a-way, as they occur to the speaker. Anyway, OP seems mostly concerned with the verbforms. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 2:01
  • 1
    + I recalled reading somewhere that would is sometimes acceptable in "if-clauses". I googled and found one mention: "I would be grateful if you would give me a little help". (If will or would express willingness, as in requests, they can be used in if-clauses.) Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 4:53
  • 1
    @CopperKettle - Volitive will (like your example), 'insistent'/habitual will ("If you WILL keep asking silly questions you must expect silly answers") can go in if clauess, but not ordinary futurive will except with 'closed' conditions ("If as you say Martha will be here tomorrow we'd better clean up the guest room"). Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 12:30

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