1

If the accident had been worse, there was no telling what might have happened.

Is the sentence above grammatically correct?

If you could parse the sentence for me, that would make things easier for me to comprehend.

And what difference would it make meaning wise, if the was in the sentence was changed to is? Would it still be grammatically correct?

2

There is no telling what might have happened if he had been driving faster.

There was no telling what might have happened if he had been driving faster.

The time of the if-clause (had been driving) allows for both present and past in the matrix clause. You could be describing, today, yesterday's accident ("there is no telling"). Or you could be narrating a story set in the past ("there was no telling").

The ice on the river is thin. There is no telling what might have happened if he had taken another step.

The ice on the river was thin. There was no telling what might have happened if he had taken another step.

From a narrative perspective, in the second sentence (was thin), you would still have both choices open to you.

The ice on the river was thin. There is no telling what might have happened if he had taken another step.

The ice on the river was thin. There was no telling what might have happened if he had taken another step.

Choosing the present ("there is no telling") would cause the narrator to be speaking directly to the audience about events that took place in the past.

Choosing the past ("there was no telling") would be used when the center-of-consciousness is relocated to the past, as for example when one of the characters in the story becomes the implied narrator. Then we are let into the mind of that character, rather than into the mind of the narrator.

Complicating things further (or making them simpler, depends on your point of view), the "character" who is thinking the thought "there was no telling" could be the narrator (the speaker) simply remembering himself back at that scene in the past.

Narrator for our purposes here means simply "a person speaking about the past", about past thoughts, past events, past actions, whatever.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.