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  1. #1
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    Default conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    Sometimes, I find some conditional 2's setences make it hard to recognize its tense
    such as
    "If there were a 3-meter tall person, he would hit the Guinness Book of Records"
    Does this mean the improbablity of there being such a person in the present or in the general time?
    I found the following content of some grammar material, and general time seems to mean beyond (past+present+future), so does conditional 2 include general time,
    counter-factual present, and improbable future? Whatever the term is for conditional2 or hypothetical conditional, I'd like to know if general time applies to this conditional. Or don't I have to care about this?

    ==========================================
    Past tense for 'general' time
    15. If you were as poor as I am, you’d feel differently.
    16. I wish I had a memory like yours.
    ==========================================

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    There isn't one now- it has no reference to the future for me, and refers to an imaginary present situation. That doesn't mean that this could never refer to the unlikely future, but context would make things clear. Logic tells us that there has been no past case or the slot in the Guinness Book of Records would have been taken and the requirement would be for more than three metres. All the person is trying to tell you is that there isn't anyone who meets the requirements today.

    You are looking at single sentences for a definitive answer to things they cannot provide. We construct meaning in context and not in single sentences in isolation. Grammar doesn't provide us with everything- it gives us pointers and the context will make things clearer.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    There isn't one now- it has no reference to the future for me, and refers to an imaginary present situation. That doesn't mean that this could never refer to the unlikely future, but context would make things clear. Logic tells us that there has been no past case or the slot in the Guinness Book of Records would have been taken and the requirement would be for more than three metres. All the person is trying to tell you is that there isn't anyone who meets the requirements today.

    You are looking at single sentences for a definitive answer to things they cannot provide. We construct meaning in context and not in single sentences in isolation. Grammar doesn't provide us with everything- it gives us pointers and the context will make things clearer.
    You are right, but a lot of grammar materials only provide "counterfactual present" and "hypothetical future" for conditional 2 using past tense. I know context is vital, but at least there should be some definition providing the whole coverage of tenses used in conditional 2 , but so far I've found some missing parts of existing definitions.
    If you just let me know the broad and whole range of definition, then it would be much helpful. So far I've found the definition for conditional 2 myself. I'd like to know if it's correct.

    * present
    1) counterfactual : I don't have a car. If I had a car, I would travel to New York.
    2) unlikely: If there were a 3-meter tall person in Korea now, I would report him to the Gunness Record Association.(time specified)

    * future - hypothetical(unlikely) - as counterfactual is impossible for anything that has't happened yet in the future
    If Halley's comet collided with the earth tomoroow, It would be tragic.

    * general time
    1)counterfactual : If there were no hunger in Africa, they would be better off.(past+present+future)
    2)unlikely :If there were a 3-meter tall person in the world, I would report him to the Gunness Record Association(time not specified)

    The thing is I really need this kind of separation to understand conditional 2 more comprehensively and to explain better to my students. I'm not just too much tenacious.

  4. #4
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post

    * present
    1) counterfactual : I don't have a car. If I had a car, I would travel to New York.
    2) unlikely: If there were a 3-meter tall person in Korea now, I would report him to the Gunness Record Association.(time specified)
    How is the second unlikely? It's counter-factual IMO. You can argue that there's a possibility of the person being mistaken, but they don't think they are- they do not think that there's a person this tall in Korea and nothing in the grammar suggests that they do. Specifying the time doesn't make it unlikely about now, but it does allow for future changes.

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    * general time
    1)counterfactual : If there were no hunger in Africa, they would be better off.(past+present+future)
    2)unlikely :If there were a 3-meter tall person in the world, I would report him to the Gunness Record Association(time not specified)
    Again, this is not a natural distinction IMO- it's not unlikely to the speaker. If it refers to the future, it's unlikely, but if it refers to the present/general time it's counter-factual. The person does not know every human being on earth, but they do feel that they have sufficient knowledge to state as a fact that there are no three-metre tall humans alive today.
    Last edited by Tdol; 31-Oct-2011 at 07:08.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    How is the second unlikely? It's counter-factual IMO. You can argue that there's a possibility of the person being mistaken, but they don't think they are- they do not think that there's a person this tall in Korea and nothing in the grammar suggests that they do. Specifying the time doesn't make it unlikely about now, but it does allow for future changes.



    Again, this is not a natural distinction IMO- it's not unlikely to the speaker. If it refers to the future, it's unlikely, but if it refers to the present/general time it's counter-factual. The person does not know every human being on earth, but they do feel that they have sufficient knowledge to state as a fact that there are no three-metre tall humans alive today.

    Then, you mean they never make unlikely conditional for the present or general time? Then do they always say for possible things as "If subject is(or does)..."? of conditional1 in the present or general time? I don't know, just confirm to me, but I seem to have seen also unlikely ones in the present, but maybe I'm mistaken, I just want to learn.

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    Default Re: conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    I have not read this entire thread. But I immediately thought of a clear use of the past with this thought.
    "If there were a 3-meter tall person, he would hit the Guinness Book of Records

    "If there had been a 3-meter tall person, he would have hit the Guinness Book of Records"

    I realize that that is using a compound tense, but it is clearly in the past.

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    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    Then, you mean they never make unlikely conditional for the present or general time? Then do they always say for possible things as "If subject is(or does)..."? of conditional1 in the present or general time? I don't know, just confirm to me, but I seem to have seen also unlikely ones in the present, but maybe I'm mistaken, I just want to learn.
    I don't like to say never because it is hard to be absolute, but if I weren't sure whether a person of this height existed, I would say If there is a person who's three meters tall... The basic idea of the second conditional for the present/general is that it is trying to show that it is counter-factual.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    I don't like to say never because it is hard to be absolute, but if I weren't sure whether a person of this height existed, I would say If there is a person who's three meters tall... The basic idea of the second conditional for the present/general is that it is trying to show that it is counter-factual.
    Okay, I'm leaning toward there being no unlikely in the present/general, but the reason why I'm asking you is whenever I see conditional 2, some of them are hard to be classified to either present or future. For example, when I asked Raymott the other day why "I got second prize" is used instead of "the second prize", explaining the reson, he quoted like the following.

    ...In fact, if prizes were being handed out all day for various things, you could win "first prize" in the fifth prize awarded.....

    He seems to have said this in terms of the present counterf-factual, but he didn't verify that such prize distribution can never happen, so he might have said it's a remote possibility in general time just imagining a general-time not future hypothetical situation. I'ts just my feeling, I think I'm mistaken. This along with many other examples always confuse me, I'm sorry I'm not trying to harrass you for this issue, but I'm serious.



  9. #9
    Frank Antonson's Avatar
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    Default Re: conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    If it's any comfort, I would say that subjunctives and conditionals are SO COOL.

    In Portuguese there is a clear future subjunctive, which, once it is acquired is very useful.

    One of the reasons that I continue to be a fan of English speakers studying German is because (that?) the conditional and subjunctive seem to come so easy and natural in German.

    I find that some of the constructions that I want to use in German -- perhaps because of my knowledge of Portuguese -- are too archaic now to be anything but weird. But I suspect that they were once there.

    I wonder... On this forum are there any VERY skilled linguists who know the "cutting edge" of research on such matters?

    Frank

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    Default Re: conditional 2- hard to tell tense

    Keannu, you have been told several times in other threads, that the so-called second conditional can be used for a counterfactual present/general time or a hypothetical future. You have been told in this thread that is not used for an unlikely present.

    If somebody says to me, "I think that John is in France", and I reply,"I'd be very surprised if he were(/was) in France", I choose that form to express that I do not believe that he is France. We may find out that I am wrong, but that is irrelevant. If there is any idea in my mind that he is in France, then I say, "If he is in France, ...". If I want to express the idea that I consider this to be a remote possibility, then I will use different words, such as: "In the (highly) unlikely event that he is in France, ..."

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