Conditional perfect


Conditional perfect

In linguistics, the conditional perfect is the composed (compound) form of the conditional mood. It refers to a hypothetical action in the past, contingent on something else that did not occur in the past. The difference from the present form of the conditional is that, in the conditional perfect, the hypothetical resultive action is presented as beginning, and usually finished, before the present. Like the present conditional, the conditional perfect appears in the apodosis (the then clause of an if..., then... statement).

English

In English, this grammatical form is used in an independent clause associated with a dependent clause that uses the pluperfect subjunctive form of the subjunctive mood. It is always constructed using the conditional modal would (which is invariant to person and number) followed by the bare infinitive helping verb have, followed by the past participle of the main verb.

Examples:

  • You would have gotten more money, if you had worked harder.
  • He would have passed the test, if he had studied.
  • If we had run faster, we would have arrived earlier.

In each example, the would have + past participle verb phrase is in the conditional perfect, while the had + past participle verb phrase is in the pluperfect subjunctive.

In very informal speech, the would have + past participle construction is sometimes used in the if clause (instead of the pluperfect subjunctive) as well as the then clause, as for example in If we would have run faster, then we would have arrived earlier. However, this formulation is considered incorrect by prescriptivists and never appears in formal speech or writing.

Other languages

French expresses counterfactual conditional sentences in exactly the same way as English does: the if clause uses the had + past participle form, while the then clause uss the would have + past participle form (although would have is a single word in French and is conjugated for person/number).

Example:

  • Si on l'avait su [pluperfect indicative], on aurait pu [conditional perfect] l'empêcher.
"If we had known it [pluperfect subjunctive], we would have been able [conditional perfect] to prevent it."

Here in the then clause, aurait translates as "would have", and pu translates as "been able"; together they form the conditional perfect. (In the if clause, avait translates as "had" and su translates as "known".)

See also


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