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  1. #1
    simile is offline Junior Member
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    Question He talked to me as if he "were" my father.

    Hi, I have a grammar question.

    Some examples first:
    (1) He looks pale as if he saw a ghost. (unreal situation in the present)
    (2) He looked pale as if he had seen a ghost. (unreal situation in the past)

    I saw a sentence in the textbook:
    (3) He talked to me as if he were my father. (unreal situation in the past)

    ==>Why isn't it:
    (4) He talked to me as if he had been my father.

    Is sentence (3) or (4) acceptable?
    If it's acceptable, why?

    Thanks a lot!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: He talked to me as if he "were" my father.

    Quote Originally Posted by simile View Post
    Hi, I have a grammar question.

    Some examples first:
    (1) He looks pale as if he saw a ghost. (unreal situation in the present)
    (2) He looked pale as if he had seen a ghost. (unreal situation in the past)

    I saw a sentence in the textbook:
    (3) He talked to me as if he were my father. (unreal situation in the past)

    ==>Why isn't it:
    (4) He talked to me as if he had been my father.

    Is sentence (3) or (4) acceptable?
    If it's acceptable, why?

    Thanks a lot!
    He looked pale as if he had seen a ghost.

    The act of "seeing" happened before the act of "looking pale" in the past.

    He talked to me as if he had been my father.

    This is impossible, at least grammatically. The act of "being your father" happened before the act of "talking" to you.

    Had he been your father, he would have continued to be your father in the present. "Had been your father" means he was your father at some point in the past, but stopped being so in the present. He either passed away or disavowed your existence as his son. In that case he could not have talked to you as your father since he did not maintain the quality of being your father at the time of talking to you.

    He talked to me as if he were my father. (unreal situation in the past)
    Is the correct way to say it.

    The act of "looking pale" can exist long after the act of "seeing." The act of "talking to you as a father" cannot exist after the person had stopped being your father.

    I hope I didn't mildly complicate it!

  3. #3
    simile is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: He talked to me as if he "were" my father.

    Quote Originally Posted by Baffled View Post
    He looked pale as if he had seen a ghost.

    The act of "seeing" happened before the act of "looking pale" in the past.

    He talked to me as if he had been my father.

    This is impossible, at least grammatically. The act of "being your father" happened before the act of "talking" to you.

    Had he been your father, he would have continued to be your father in the present. "Had been your father" means he was your father at some point in the past, but stopped being so in the present. He either passed away or disavowed your existence as his son. In that case he could not have talked to you as your father since he did not maintain the quality of being your father at the time of talking to you.

    He talked to me as if he were my father. (unreal situation in the past)
    Is the correct way to say it.

    The act of "looking pale" can exist long after the act of "seeing." The act of "talking to you as a father" cannot exist after the person had stopped being your father.

    I hope I didn't mildly complicate it!
    I mostly understand what you mean, but still got a question.
    Ex: He looks pale as if he saw a ghost.
    Isn't the use of "saw" - past tense - an indicator to an "unreal" situation? I thought it only carries the denotation of an unreal situation, not actually about the timing of the event. According to your explanation, the use of the tense should always accord with the time whether it's real or unreal. Is that right?

    What about:
    He looks pale as if he sees a ghost. (He actually sees a ghost in a certain situation.)(Maybe the ghost haunts him for some time, and he continues looking pale for the same period of time.)
    I mean "seeing a ghost" and "looking pale" can be at the same moment, not necessarily at different timing.
    Then, we alter the situation to an unreal one.
    The sentence becomes:
    When I come in, he looks pale as if he saw a ghost. (unreal, in the present)
    When I came in, he looked pale as if he had seen a ghost. (unreal, in the past)
    (Maybe the act of "seeing" can shortly before "being pale." But they can co-exist for some period of time as long as he continues seeing me in the presence.)
    And in this situation,
    (1) "Saw" only serves as an indicator to an unreal situation in the present, not really an event happening ealier.
    (2) "had seen" only serves as an indicator to an unreal situation in the past, not really an event prior to "looking pale."
    Can I interpret that the unusual use of past tense and past perfect tense is a means to indicate an unreal situation, not really to indicate the timing of the events. Because it's unreal, the use of past and past perfect tense only represents something not real.
    Is the inference proper?
    Thanks a lot!

  4. #4
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    bhaisahab is online now Moderator
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    Default Re: He talked to me as if he "were" my father.

    'He looks pale, as if he has seen a ghost'. Present simple+ Present perfect. He looks pale now as if he has just seen a ghost.

    'He looked pale, as if he had just seen a ghost'. Past simple+ Past perfect. He looked pale in the past as if he had just seen a ghost.

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