I read this line in the description of a film on TV:

Stu answers a call in a booth and is told that if he hangs up, he's dead.

I think it should be "would be dead". Please explain the bold part meaning.

  • Please link to your source, or specify it in your question. Your quotation is not a complete sentence, since the if clause lacks a subject. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Aug 3 '16 at 17:01
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    You're simply mistaken. The auxiliary verb would be appropriate in a subjunctive context (If he were to hang up, he would be dead), but not otherwise. – FumbleFingers Aug 3 '16 at 17:58
  • @FumbleFingers Your comment seems to be helpful.Can you explain a bit more? – Anubhav Singh Aug 4 '16 at 15:03
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    I'm not sure how to explain what works and what doesn't. You could switch to past tense, where the natural version would be Stu was told that if he hung up, he would be dead. That definitely wouldn't be he died - some people would use he was dead there, but most careful speakers would tend to avoid that. They might even claim the simple past was "incorrect" there. But even though he will be dead is acceptable for your present tense version it's way over the top to suggest that simple present is in any way "substandard". – FumbleFingers Aug 4 '16 at 15:30

...[he] is told that if he hangs up, he will be dead.

This sentence is reported speech: the speaker might actually have said

"Hang up and you're dead".

In baseball, if you fail to hit the ball three times, you are out: this is stated as

Three strikes and you're out.

three strikes is an event: you're out is a consequence of that event.

Comparing that with what was probably said to Stu, hang up is an event: you're dead is a consequence of that event.

The expression "you're dead" in this context is a death threat. The person is telling Stu that if he hangs up the phone, somebody will kill him.


The correct sentence should be:

Stu answers a call in a booth and is told that if he hangs up, he will be dead.

That is first conditional.

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    I don't think this explains why the original sentence was used or why it's wrong, though. In my opinion, the original sentence uses a kind of reported speech - the person on the other end of the call says "If you hang up, you're dead." – stangdon Aug 3 '16 at 16:57
  • Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Are you going to say the correct sentence should be ...tomorrow we will die? – FumbleFingers Aug 4 '16 at 15:33

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