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How can I speak suppose I want to ask a gentleman, "If there had a dress code tomorrow, it would be better". Is this the right way to talk about the future possibility?

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  • habbu, since I'm an incompetent speaker I cannot help you, but are you sure "If there had" is grammatical? Or should it be "If there were", perhaps?
    – user114
    Jul 5, 2013 at 12:08
  • Welcome to ELL! The expression you want is If there were: the dummy subject there is used only with BE. I see that you have also posted this question on English Language & Usage. Such cross-posting between StackExchange sites is frowned on; I suggest you delete the question at one site. Jul 5, 2013 at 12:28
  • @Carlo_R Incompetent? For shame! "Less than perfectly competent" is not "incompetent"; you are more competent than many of the native speakers I work with every day. :) Jul 5, 2013 at 12:30
  • @Stoney, hearing these things from you make me really happy, thank you!
    – user114
    Jul 5, 2013 at 12:34

2 Answers 2

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OP's proposed utterance...

1: If there had a dress code tomorrow, it would be better.

...is completely ungrammatical, and wouldn't be produced by any native speaker. The nearest equivalent that could be produced is...

2: ?If there had been a dress code tomorrow, it would be better. (? = "suspect phrasing")

...but many native speakers wouldn't say that either, because it mixes verb forms. They'd probably say...

3: If there had been a dress code tomorrow, it would have been be better.
or...
4: ?If there was a dress code tomorrow, it would be better. (also suspect phrasing, but often occurs)
or (a bit "over-precise", but grammatically consistent)...
5: If there were to be a dress code tomorrow, it would be better.
or (agonisingly over-precise, to my ear, but also grammatical)...
6: If there were a dress code tomorrow, it would be better.

The important thing to notice is that although it's a future "unreal" condition, all acceptable variations above use what appear to be past tense verb forms.

No valid constructions use future tense for the "unreal future" (so If there will be a dress code... is never valid). Note that #2 and #3 above both strongly imply that there definitely won't be a dress code, whereas #4 and #5 leave that possibility open (but they normally imply the speaker thinks there won't be).


Finally, it's also worth pointing out the possibility of...

7: If there is a dress code tomorrow, it will be be better.

...which I don't think counts as unreal future. It's an unknown future possibility, in which context it's perfectly okay to use present tense because it's unknown at the time of speaking (but it would be at least "highly unusual" in most contexts to continue using the present tense with "...it is better").

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    "If there had been a dress code tomorrow"??? Can people actually say that in England? It sounds terrible to my American ear. Jul 5, 2013 at 20:25
  • @Peter: I don't see anything wrong with If you had come tomorrow..., or If it had been tomorrow..., for example. Sure - they look a little odd out of context, but in appropriate contexts I think these are perfectly ordinary constructions. I'd be boggled if it turned out only the English use them. Jul 5, 2013 at 20:32
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    But both of those mean "if you had come tomorrow [instead of today]", and not "if there had been a dress code tomorrow [instead of there not being one]". I find the first construction grammatical, and the second one incorrect. So for the first meaning, your sentence would be fine; but the first meaning seems so unlikely that I didn't even consider it. Jul 5, 2013 at 20:38
  • @Peter: That seems such a fine distinction I can't really see that ordinary speakers would habitually be capable of recognising and observing it as making any given usage either "grammatical" or not. Also don't forget we don't know OP's full context - the speaker and addressee might both know perfectly well that there's only a dress code on one day within, say, a week-long art exhibition. And it turns out it's today, but since they're wearing t-shirts today, they can't go in. Jul 5, 2013 at 20:52
  • I would think this distinction is a natural grammatical one to Americans; it certainly is completely natural to me. And some very complicated grammatical distinctions are used habitually by ordinary speakers. For example, when to use which article in English (which many ESL students get wrong); it's much more complicated than this distinction. Jul 5, 2013 at 20:54
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I would say, "It would be better if there WERE a dress code."

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