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    #1

    Tense after 'unless'

    He had to surrender his money to the pirates. Otherwise, the pirates would have killed him.

    If we combine these sentences, which is more correct?

    Unless he surrenders his money, the pirates would have killed him.
    Unless he surrendered his money, the pirates would have killed him.

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    #2

    Re: Tense after 'unless'

    'Unless', which actually means 'except in the unlikely event that' rather than simply 'if not', is not really appropriate here.

    Your sentences would be combined as

    If he had not surrendered his money, the pirates would have killed him.



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    #3

    Re: Tense after 'unless'

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    'Unless', which actually means 'except in the unlikely event that' rather than simply 'if not', is not really appropriate here.

    Your sentences would be combined as

    If he had not surrendered his money, the pirates would have killed him.


    The question actually instructed to use 'unless' to combine the statement. I understand that 'unless' means 'except in the event that'. But does this event really have to be unlikely?

    Based on the context, I tend to feel that the second sentence is right. But is the first sentence acceptable?

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    #4

    Re: Tense after 'unless'

    Quote Originally Posted by dlocenot View Post
    The question actually instructed to use 'unless' to combine the statement. I understand that 'unless' means 'except in the event that'. But does this event really have to be unlikely?

    Based on the context, I tend to feel that the second sentence is right. But is the first sentence acceptable?
    If those were your instructions, then I fear that the person responsible for making this exercise has not thought it through quite carefully enough!

    The level of unlikeliness is, of course, a matter of opinion, but the point is that the situation described in the unless-clause must normally, and particularly in the case of past sentences, be one viewed as in some sense constituting an exception to the normal/expected course of events, rather than the sole or chief negative causative condition of some other act.

    Perhaps some natural examples involving 'unless' would help to make the distinction clearer:

    How could you know the layout of the room unless you had actually been there?
    (= except in the event that....)

    We always went out for an early-morning run, unless it was raining.
    (= except in the event that....)

    It would, however, be wholly inappropriate in

    *Unless Germany had lost WW2, Britain would have been in trouble.

    , since the unless-clause cannot here be sensibly/meaningfully rephrased by means of 'except in the event that...'. To put it another way, the hypothetical situation of Germany's not having lost the War cannot be viewed simply as one possible exceptional circumstance leading to the realization of the (also hypothetical) main clause, but rather as its sole/main cause. Thus here we need:

    If Germany had not lost WW2, Britain would have been in trouble.

    As this is essentially a meaning-related rather than a strictly grammatical issue, the inappropriate use of 'unless' will not automatically result in a completely unacceptable sentence: some cases may simply sound strange but would nevertheless be comprehensible to a sympathetic native.

    Now, regarding your proposed sentences (numbered for ease of reference):

    [1] *Unless he surrenders his money, the pirates would have killed him.

    This is simply ungrammatical: you cannot combine a present tense protasis (unless...surrenders...) with a conditional perfect apodosis (...would have killed...).

    [2] ?Unless he surrendered his money, the pirates would have killed him.

    Structurally dubious/strange-sounding, but roughly comprehensible. As compared with the paradigmatic third conditional of my suggested amendment,

    [3] If he had not surrendered his money, the pirates would have killed him.
    (structure: [if+had Ved+would have Ved])

    sentence [2], structured [if+Ved+would have Ved], is a kind of hybrid sometimes known as a 'variant third conditional'. However, variant third conditionals must be used with caution, and are possible only where the verb of the if-clause denotes a state/event still continuing at the present time of utterance. Cf. e.g. natural

    [4] If you were not so rude, you wouldn't have lost so many friends.

    in which the cause of your past loss of friends is your still continuing/habitual present rudeness.

    In [2], however, the surrendering of the money (or failure to do so) is a completely past (non-)event, not one in any sense still continuing at the present time of utterance, making the variant 3rd conditional form inappropriate in this case.

    The correct/natural use of 'unless' is is a tricky point, and one single explanation or set of examples may not be sufficient. I hope that these notes will, nevertheless, help to make it a little clearer for you!

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    #5

    Re: Tense after 'unless'

    Thank you so much for the enlightenment!

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    #6

    Re: Tense after 'unless'


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