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    Snappy is offline Member
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    Default If I were/had been a bird

    Which is natural?

    If I were a bird, I could have flown to you at that time.
    If I had been a bird, I could have flown to you at that time.

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    Default Re: If I were/had been a bird

    All things considered, I prefer:

    If I had been a bird, I could have flown to you at that time.

    I think there are 'grammatical' reasons; and it sounds more lyrical.

    You might like to consider:
    If I had been a bird, I could have flown to you that day.
    Last edited by David L.; 12-Apr-2009 at 01:25.

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    Default Re: If I were/had been a bird

    Quote Originally Posted by David L. View Post
    All things considered, I prefer:

    If I had been a bird, I could have flown to you at that time.

    I think there are 'grammatical' reasons; and it sounds more lyrical.

    You might like to consider:
    If I had been a bird, I could have flown to you that day.
    Thanks.
    What I wanted to clarify is if it is possible to say, "If I were a bird, I could have flown to you."


    Please look at the following sentences.


    Last week, I saw a newspaper ad offering a limited sale on 50 new computers at a discount price.
    I would have bought it if I were rich/if I had been rich.


    I am not rich. I was not rich, either. As a matter of fact I've never been rich.
    Which should I use, "...if I were rich" or "if I had been rich"? Either will do?

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    Default Re: If I were/had been a bird

    Quote Originally Posted by Snappy View Post
    Thanks.
    What I wanted to clarify is if it is possible to say, "If I were a bird, I could have flown to you."


    Please look at the following sentences.


    Last week, I saw a newspaper ad offering a limited sale on 50 new computers at a discount price.
    I would have bought it if I were rich/if I had been rich.


    I am not rich. I was not rich, either. As a matter of fact I've never been rich.
    Which should I use, "...if I were rich" or "if I had been rich"? Either will do?
    Another question:

    Couldn't I say, "I bought this computer yesterday. If I were rich, I could have brought a better one."? If this sentence is possible, "If I were a bird, I could have flown to you" seems to be possible.
    Last edited by Snappy; 12-Apr-2009 at 06:47. Reason: correction

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    Default Re: If I were/had been a bird

    (Future posters to this thread, Please Note: As a preface to this post, let it suffice to say that the topic of English "verb tense" can be a controversial one -- even among established grammarians. For the practical purposes at hand, let's skirt any issues involved with such a controversy here so that posts to this thread remains on-point: i.e., verb phrase agreement. If the topic of English "verb tense" does arouse anyone's passion, then please begin another separate thread devoted especially to it.)

    Hi Snappy,

    David L.'s advice here is on the mark, i.e., grammatical considerations are of concern in constructing your short verse:

    Quote Originally Posted by Snappy
    If I were a bird, I could have flown to you at that time. ???
    This version of your verse mixes "tenses."

    I place the word tenses in quotes here because the English language, in addition to changes in the formation of a single-word verb (i.e., ran, run), oftentimes requires verb phrases to express the concept of time (i.e., have run, had run). Is a verb phrase a tense? Some argue yes, others no. This is the gist of the controversy briefly alluded to in my preface note above. Recognizing this, let's move on to the practical considerations at hand here:

    When one begins with the subjunctive mood as you do here: "If I were ...," one expects the present conditional to follow: "I could (or would) fly ..." Thus the jarring sound of:

    Quote Originally Posted by Snappy
    If I were a bird, I could have flown to you at that time. ???
    To the ear, the jarring clash of "tense" makes it sound as if the gears on the motor are grinding!

    But when you instead write --

    Quote Originally Posted by Snappy
    If I had been a bird, I could have flown to you at that time.
    -- the past perfect of your first subjunctive mood clause, If I had been, meshes perfectly with the expected conditional past perfect to follow, could (or would) have flown. Nothing jarring to the ear here.

    Should you wish to express your verse in the present, then you might consider instead:
    If I were a bird, I would (or could) fly to you in time.
    Or perhaps more lyrical:
    If I were a bird, I would (or could) fly to you o'er space and time.

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    Default Re: If I were/had been a bird

    For future reference, it really does help !! if you come right out and state the full query in the first place, so we don't go barking up wrong trees thinking this is a line from a poem, so we're not just taking grammar into account, but the liberties that poetry can take with grammar for the sake of lyricism.

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    2006 is offline Banned
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    Default Re: If I were/had been a bird

    Quote Originally Posted by snappy View Post
    which is natural?

    If i were a bird, i could have flown to you at that time. this one sounds much more natural to me. And the subjunctive is certainly appropriate there. (a situation contrary to fact)


    if i had been a bird, i could have flown to you at that time. this sentence sounds quite odd to me.
    the presence of the past perfect makes me want to ask what you (had been)(were) "at that time". (even thought i am quite sure you must have been a person)

    obviously i don't agree that "if i were..." needs to be followed by the present tense.

    if i were you, i would have notified the police immediately.
    2006

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    Cool Re: If I were/had been a bird

    Just like 2006 wrote above, there's no logic in using the past perfect subjunctive mood. Besides, in grammar it's quite a common thing to mix conditionals.
    In the sentence above, If I were a bird... is an abstract concept, stretching into past time as well as into future time. You couldn't have been a bird then, and obviously you can't be one now and in the future.
    Non-abstract concepts can, however, change the meaning of the sentence significantly.
    If I were taller, I could have played in a college basketball team.
    or
    If I had been taller, I could have played in a college basketball team.

    #1 tells us that the person in question is still too short to be able to play in a basketball team; #2 tells us something different about the situation.

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    Default Re: If I were/had been a bird

    Quote Originally Posted by engee30 View Post
    Just like 2006 wrote above, there's no logic in using the past perfect subjunctive mood. Besides, in grammar it's quite a common thing to mix conditionals.
    In the sentence above, If I were a bird... is an abstract concept, stretching into past time as well as into future time. You couldn't have been a bird then, and obviously you can't be one now and in the future.
    Non-abstract concepts can, however, change the meaning of the sentence significantly.
    If I were taller, I could have played in a college basketball team.
    or
    If I had been taller, I could have played in a college basketball team.

    #1 tells us that the person in question is still too short to be able to play in a basketball team; #2 tells us something different about the situation.
    Hi Snappy,

    In regard to "tense" concerning the English subjunctive, more than a few sources describe a present subjunctive, a past subjunctive, a present perfect subjunctive, a past perfect subjunctive (= pluperfect subjunctive), etc.

    Nonetheless, engee30 is right: Even though some grammarians apply the term "tense" to the subjunctive mood, it really isn't a "tense" at all but rather a verb form. The term "tense" is applied not in any temporal sense -- since the subjunctive mood expresses subjective thoughts or hypothetical situations that are independent of time -- but rather because these subjunctive forms themselves happen to resemble the constructions of real English verb "tenses" (i.e., verb phrases). For a more detailed explanation about this, please see this wiki article on the subjunctive.

    In this respect, some "traditionalists" might object to the mixing of "tenses" in your first example:

    "If I were a bird, I could have flown to you at that time."

    Again, for a more detailed explanation in regard to your example here, please see the discussion concerning The Pluperfect Subjunctive within the above link.

    Should the above wiki article be considered the final word on the English subjunctive? Hardly.

    Since its use has become all but obsolete in common speech throughout most of the English speaking world (formal writing is a different matter), one will find a variety of usages for the subjunctive. And none of these can really be said to be "right" or "wrong," per se, since "rightness" or "wrongness" has much to do with how a particular region may have adapted its English usage over the course of time.

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    Default Re: If I were/had been a bird

    Hello again Snappy, 2006, et al.,

    After a more careful reading of 2006's post here, specifically --

    Quote Originally Posted by 2006
    if i were you, i would have notified the police immediately.
    -- I could not help but find 2006's example "sounding right" as well as making logical sense. So then why not logically your example as well? i.e. :

    Quote Originally Posted by Snappy
    If I were a bird, I could have flown to you at that time.
    My inability to reconcile 2006's above example with the advice I have given to you in this thread prompted me to search through sources -- both online, as well as my own hardcopy grammar references. And guess what? 2006 is right: I stand corrected.

    Once again, please let me cite a wiki article (simply for its ready online access, and not for any particular preference as an authoritative source) as to why: Conditional sentence. Here, in the discussion about irrealis conditions (i.e., those conditions known to be false), you will find the following example that equates directly to both 2006's example, as well as yours:
    If I were [colloq. was] the king, I could have you thrown in the dungeon.
    So there you have it. What at first didn't sound right to me, upon reflection and some digging through grammar references, actually is.

    Thanks to both you and 2006 for correcting my understanding.

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