English Grammar


Correct or incorrect answer ?

Hi everyone!


Why did GymGlish consider the following expression as incorrect: « She wouldn't get this far if she didn't speak fluent Spanish » ?


From my point of view, this is the second conditional … so, it is grammatically correct.


GymGlish proposed instead: « She wouldn't have gotten this far if she didn't speak fluent Spanish ».


Thank you for your help,
Delia.

3 comments

  • Hi Delia,


    This a subtle thing, and I hope I can explain it intelligible.


    You're perfectly right when you say that the rule for an if-clause of this sort is: 'If she (past tense), she (would + verb)'. That is absolutely right in most cases, for example in: 'If I didn't speak English, I wouldn't get very far in life.'"


    But in this case, the speciality is that we want to express what she has already accomplished. Instead of predicting into the future how far she can get, we look at how far she has already gotten. From the if-clause point of view, the rule is the same, with the difference that we have to express the conditional part in the past form:


    'She wouldn't have gotten this far' is the past form of 'She wouldn't get far'.


    Hence: 'If the she didn't speak fluent Spanish, she wouldn't have gotten this far.' is perfectly correct and even abide the rule for the 2. if-clause , which is 'If she (past tense) , she (conditional)'.


    You can of course say: 'If she didn't speak fluent Spanish, she wouldn't get far'. But then you should bear in mind that this has a different meaning, that is, you predict into future instead of assessing what she has already accomplished.


    I hope I epxlained it helpfully.
    Cordially
    Whacky
  • Thank you Whacky for your answer .. the subtlety of some English constructions is not always easy to understand.


    According to your explanation, the choice of using " wouldn't have gotten " instead of " wouldn't get" is a question of time ... past time (accomplished action) versus present or future. Now, I understand that and it seems logical.


    However, why not using the third conditional to express past events, i.e. "If she hadn't spoken fluent Spanish, she wouldn't have gotten this far" ?


    Delia.
  • Hi Delai,


    I'm glad I could shed some light on this issue.


    You're right to mention the third conditional form. We are used to it and we learned it. Nevertheless, the
    if-clauses are a strict corset, which is not suitable for every conditional case we want to express. What counts in he end is the meaning.


    When you say 'If she hadn't spoken fluent Spanish', it is grammatical correct as well, but then again there is a shift in meaning. 'If she hadn't spoken Spanish' refers to he past, that is a situation (or a period) in the past in which she spoke fluent Spanish - and which had the result that she has gotten far.


    But in this example, it's about her ability she has, that is speakingt fluent English. And an ability is expressed with the simple present, which becomes simple past in the if-clause.


    'She speaks fluent English. Hence, she has gotten far.' becomes' 'If she didn't speak fluent English, she wouldn't have gotten far.'


    The if-clauses are a strict corset, which helps us to apply the correct tenses. But we can also use it when the meaning is meets specific premises.


    For the third form, this means: We have a pas action, which has brought about a certain result, for example:


    'If she hadn't passed my way, I would have never got to know her.'


    'If you had never asked this question, I would have never got to know you.'


    But in our examples, we want to express something else. We want to show that she has an ability, and without that ability, she wouldn't have gotten far.


    'If you didn't speak fluent English, she wouldn't have gotten far.'


    The strict rules of the if-clause always have to be used with a grain of salt. What counts is the situation we want to express. And in some cases, the situation doesn't meet the requirements for the if-clauses.


    Cordially
    Whacky

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