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If I ever turned you in to the cops, it'd be because you've done something wrong, and not because I hate you.

If I ever turned you in to the cops, it'd be because you had done something wrong, and not because I hate you.

If I ever turned you in to the cops, it'd be because you would have done something wrong, and not because I hate you.

Do all the above sentences mean the same? Are there any differences in their meaning? Does the first and second one mean the same?

  • The difference is the second example is syntactically valid, but the others aren't. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 3 '16 at 13:00
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    We say turned, not tuned. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 3 '16 at 17:37
  • @TRomano That was typo. I've just corrected it though. – lekon chekon Jun 5 '16 at 8:45
  • Lots of people say would have but ignore them. They're wrong. The first two are fine and are nearly identical in meaning. Literally #2 implies more time passed between the wrong and the turning in. In practical use it probably matters very little. – shawnt00 Jul 14 '16 at 20:44
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First of all, the expression is "Turned in to the cops. "Tuned in" is a very specific expression that is used to describe an audience or a person who is paying very close attention.

All three sentences you provided make sense to me and I readily understand the intended meaning. However, I believe they are all ungrammatical due to the use of the past tense in the "if" clause. In English, past conditionals can really only be used to talk about hypothetical changes to situations that have happened. For example, consider the following

If I went to class yesterday, I would know what is on the test.

It is appropriate to use the past tense with the "if" clause because you are considering what would have happened if you changed the past.

Getting back to your example, your use of the word "ever" implies that the opportunity to "turn you in to the cops" did not happen. It is more appropriate to use the present tense in this situation.

The most proper rephrasing of your sentence is

If I ever turn you in to the cops, it'll be because you did something wrong, not because I hate you.

A few notes:

  • There is no need to use the present perfect (have done).
  • It is also acceptable (though I'm not certain it is 100% grammatical) to use "it would be because..." rather than "it will be because...". The difference in meaning is subtle but "would" makes the sentence sound more hypothetical. Using "will" in spoken English give the sentence a nuance that it might actually happen.
  • The use of the word "and" is not necessary in sentences like this that show contrast (the first because clause is positive and the second is negative). I won't go as far as to say it is ungrammatical but it doesn't sound right to me.

Going back to your original question, if you consider the sentence without the word "ever", the past tense still makes sense. The following sentence implies that the opportunity to "turn you in to the cops" existed and the speaker chose not to.

If I turned you in to the cops, it would be because you did something, not because I hate you.

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If I ever tuned you in to the cops, it'd be because you've done something, and not because I hate you.

If I ever tuned you in to the cops, it'd be because you had done something, and not because I hate you.

If I ever tuned you in to the cops, it'd be because you would have done something, and not because I hate you.

Here's how these sentences about a future possibility ("it would be") would typically go in my dialect of English.

If I ever turn you in, it would be because you did something.

If I ever turn you in, it would be because you have done something.

If I ever turn you in, it would be because you had done something.

Only the last, with the past perfect, unambiguously expresses the idea that I do not believe you to have done anything yet that would make me want to turn you in. The first two might be understood to mean that I believe you to have already committed some crime, and that my decision not to turn you in may be written on a block of ice, not cut into stone.

  • In all the sentences you've used, you've not used the 2nd conditional. It probably wouldn't make much of a difference, other than increase the sentences' uncertainty. If i ever turned you in, it would be because you have done/did something wrong. ^ It's grammatically correct, and understandable, right? – lekon chekon Jun 5 '16 at 8:49
  • I'm pointing out to you that "it would be" in your sentences refers to a future possibility, and that in my dialect of English, we would not backshift in the if-clause. I am also pointing out that only one of these formations is unambiguous in its main clause: simple past and present-perfect might refer to an action taken prior to the utterance, whereas the past perfect only makes sense from the point-of-view of the future looking back to a past-in-the-future which is after the time of the utterance. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 5 '16 at 9:54
  • If I were to turn you in, it would be .... – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 5 '16 at 9:59
  • If I had a million dollars, I would... – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 5 '16 at 10:01
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"If" with a past tense verb becomes the rarely understood past subjunctive in English. This is why many sticklers still say "If I were."

In any case, to make your first example grammatical, you must use the present tense in the "if" statement (not the past subjunctive) and the future tense in the root of the first clause, followed by either the past tense or past perfect in the first clause, and finally the past tense in the second clause:

If I ever turn you in to the cops, it will be because you did something wrong, and not because I hated you.

To make your second example (using past subjunctive) grammatical, you only need to make "hated" past tense:

If I ever turned you in to the cops, it'd be because you had done something wrong, and not because I hated you.

In your third example, which still uses the past subjunctive but doubles up on the conditional, you also need only make "hated" past tense, although it is arguably better to continue with the extra conditionals:

If I ever turned you in to the cops, it'd be because you would have done something wrong, and not because I would have hated you.

The third example is pretty weird. The first example makes it feel like the scenario is a little more possible. The second example is the best one for expressing that the scenario is unlikely, but no matter what kind of weird stuff happens, you don't hate the person you're talking to.

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