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"She has such good ideas, such insights, you know. She would point out something to me, and I would see it, but not if she doesn't draw my attention to it."

Why does the writer of the example sentence above use "would" in it instead of simply using the simple present tense and say, "She often points out something to me, and I see it, but not if she doesn't draw my attention to it"? Is he talking about the past--in which case "would" would mean something like "used to"--or is he talking hypothetically?

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It's a rather peculiar combination of tenses and implied probability of certain events in the future, I think.

The sentence

She has such good ideas, such insights, you know.

characterizes her. There is no condition, that's just what she is. The next portion

She would point out something to me, and I would see it...

describes (as has been pointed out in the comments) the habitual happening, but in the past, in other words, the speaker states the fact, that in the past she did point out something, and the speaker did see it, on more than one occasion.

Now, the next portion,

... but not if she doesn't draw my attention to it.

is actually a conditional (see the "if"?), so why is present tense is used here? I believe it is past-in-future, and is an incomplete conditional (ellipsis):

but if she doesn't draw my attention to it, I won't see it.

the second clause is contracted into the single "not" and squeezed between "but" and the "if".

Interpretation: "While in the past I saw things when she'd point them out, it is uncertain that such feeding of ideas (to me) is going to continue."

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  • Thanks for your answer. I think that the writer should have written "she didn't." I don't see the connection with the future ("won't"). Rather, I see a connection with the past, as if the writer were saying, "but if she doesn't draw my attention to it, I wouldn't see it." That's why I think that he should have written "she didn't." Could you please explain what you mean by "past-in-future," and why you see a connection with the future? – Luke Oct 26 '15 at 5:58
  • @Luke, it's not easy to explain why certain things are perceived as they are. In most cases it's just experience. – Victor Bazarov Oct 26 '15 at 11:48
  • haha, yes, I know it's not easy, but we might be over complicating the issue. I agree with the two people in the comments who say that the second part should be in the past, though I recognize the original sentence is a bit confusing. Maybe, it is just that it's not written correctly. – Luke Oct 27 '15 at 2:15

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