I might be dead

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I might be dead

Post by navi » Thu Aug 26, 2021 12:40 pm

Which are correct:

1) If he hadn't helped me, I might be dead now.

2) If he hadn't helped me, I might have been dead now.

3) If he didn't help me, I might be dead now.
4) If he didn't help me, I might have been dead now.


Is there any difference in the meanings?

Gratefully,
Navi
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Re: I might be dead

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Aug 26, 2021 1:00 pm

3) and 4) are syntactically correct, but not something a native speaker would say.

1) is the better of the two remaining sentences, though it would be more idiomatic if you substituted “by now" for just "now":

If he hadn't helped me, I might be dead by now.
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Re: I might be dead

Post by Phil White » Thu Aug 26, 2021 1:38 pm

I disagree with Erik. Sentences 3 and 4 do not conform to syntactical conventions.

You need the tense shift to the past perfect to establish the temporal sequence of the action of helping preceding the potential death, both of which lie in the past. Tense shifting like this is not observed as rigidly as many prescriptive grammarians would like, but this is an occasion where, in my opinion, it would be used by the vast majority of speakers (although many would undoubtedly use the form "if he hadn't have helped...", which is an anathema to prescriptivists and a joy to those who take a certain anarchic delight in throwing conventions to the wind.
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Re: I might be dead

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Aug 26, 2021 10:48 pm

I might be dead by now if he hadn't helped me seems to trip off the tongue more easily.
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Re: I might be dead

Post by navi » Fri Aug 27, 2021 12:08 am

Thank you all very much,

What would happen if the second event is in the future?

5) If you hadn't repaired his car, he might not have made it to the wedding tomorrow.

6) If you hadn't repaired his car, he might not make it to the wedding tomorrow.

Phil, I had never encountered 'if you hadn't have helped' before! This was a great find! I suppose I had heard it, but my mind had just suppressed the 'have'. I don't suppose people say 'if you had have helped' though, do they?

Gratefully,
Navi (always learning)
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Re: I might be dead

Post by Phil White » Fri Aug 27, 2021 1:33 am

navi wrote: Fri Aug 27, 2021 12:08 am I don't suppose people say 'if you had have helped' though, do they?
You most certainly hear it (at least in the UK).

It is generally spoken as "if you'd 'v helped me", and you hear four variants if people try not to abbreviate it:
  • if you had have helped me
  • if you would have helped me
  • if you had of helped me
  • if you would of helped me
They are, of course, all considered wrong by most "educated" people (whatever that may mean), but you will come across all of them, even written out in relatively formal writing.

The abbreviated spoken form is something that I am pretty certain most people, including myself, will use quite regularly:
"If I'd'v seen him, I would'v spoken to him."

And that probably explains why the usage is so widespread - it is formed by analogy with the "would have" (usually contracted to "would'v" in speech) in conditional sentences. As it is almost always contracted in speech, it is pretty well indistinguishable from "would of" (or "had of").

No, they are absolutely not constructions that should be taught as being "correct" - they are not. But they are part of the vibrant tapestry that is English.

As far as your car repairing and weddings are concerned, you have disappeared down a rabbit-hole of hypothetical sentences. Because it is unknown whether he will actually arrive at the wedding, people simply wouldn't use a formulation like that. My guess is that they would say something like "if you hadn't repaired his car, he wouldn't have been able to make ...".

And Bob, yes. Any fronted "if" clause is always more cumbersome, but they have their uses. Try the fronted version with a heavy stress on "hadn't", and you can guess at a lot more of the back-story...
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Re: I might be dead

Post by BonnieL » Fri Aug 27, 2021 9:57 pm

I don't care for "if" at the beginning of the sentences - I much prefer shorter clear sentences. Such as:

"Had he not helped me, I might (or could) have died."
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Re: I might be dead

Post by Phil White » Fri Aug 27, 2021 10:26 pm

BonnieL wrote: Fri Aug 27, 2021 9:57 pm I don't care for "if" at the beginning of the sentences - I much prefer shorter clear sentences. Such as:

"Had he not helped me, I might (or could) have died."
That depends on a number of factors.

"You're sure of a big surprise if you go down to the woods tonight" is strange on a couple of levels, not simply because we are familiar with the version in which the "if" clause is fronted. In this case, the narrative is building a certain amount of tension, which is ruined if the "if" clause is not fronted.

Also, warnings of dire consequences of an action are often delivered in inverted form, particularly if the action being warned against is an imminent likelihood.
"If you cause trouble, I'll call the police." This sounds wrong to my ears if it is delivered as "I'll call the police if you cause trouble." The warning or threat is simply lost.

I also suspect that it can depend on the directness of causality, i.e. if the only logical consequence of situation or action A is situation or action B. I love massively difficult sudoku puzzles. I don't think I would ever say "This cell must be a 7 if that one is a 6". The chain of causality (and of my thinking) runs the other way ("if that cell is a 6, that one must be a 7").

There are undoubtedly plenty of other factors that motivate fronting. If I am explaining something and setting out a complex scenario, as in this rather tortuous and perhaps slightly infelicitous sentence, inversion is often the way to go.

But your point is fundamentally valid in most cases.
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