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Question Concerning Ch. 33 (Conditionals)

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Question Concerning Ch. 33 (Conditionals)

Postby latinamisera » Wed Mar 08, 2006 6:03 am

Hello,

I am a first-year Latin student with a somewhat straightforward (I think) question about conditional statements. I took a quiz today in which I was required to translate from English into Latin something like this:

If the students gave much money to the teacher of Latin, they would be wise.

I think that was it. Anyway, the sentence is not important, only the construction of the conditional. According to my Latin prof., this is (in Wheelockian language) a subjunctive, "contrary to fact present" condition. Wheelock's tells us to translate these "with auxiliaries were (...ing) and would (be)." So, here's my question: in the context of a conditional, do "gave" and "were giving" really amount to the same thing?

In my mind, "if they gave money [but they did not give money], they would be wise [but they are not]" amounts to a mixed condition in which a present state is the consequence of past action...

and "if they were giving money [but they are not giving money], they would be wise [but they are not]" amounts to a proper "contrary to fact present" condition...

Am I completely off base?

Thanks in advance,
William
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Postby spiphany » Wed Mar 08, 2006 3:20 pm

English usage in conditionals is confusing. There is no separate form for the subjunctive, so we have to express it using an uncongugated past tense. This minor distinction is most clear with the conditional form of "to be", which is "If I were..." not, "If I was..." (a common mistake).

Generally, as Wheelocks tells you, we express a present contrary-to-fact condition with the past progressive ("were ...ing"), which has the advantage of making the conditional flavor very clear, since we don't normally use this construction otherwise. But for a few verbs (primarily "to have", "to be") this sounds very awkward, so we use a simple past instead. "If the students gave..." would be an equivalent to this, but I agree that "If the students were giving..." would be less ambiguous.

Since the present conditional is expressed using the past tense, the past contrary-to-fact conditional must be expressed with the pluperfect. If the teacher had written a mixed conditional, the first part would have correctly read "If the students had given..."

(The correct reply to a sentence like this is, of course, to write in Latin:
"Even if the students were rich, they would not give money to the teacher." Or something along those lines.)
IPHIGENIE: Kann uns zum Vaterland die Fremde werden?
ARKAS: Und dir ist fremd das Vaterland geworden.
IPHIGENIE: Das ist's, warum mein blutend Herz nicht heilt.
(Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris)
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Postby Interaxus » Wed May 17, 2006 1:56 am

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Postby bellum paxque » Sun May 21, 2006 7:58 pm

A little off topic maybe, but how many here think that "If I was you" is as common and as correct as "If I were you"? as if not more common, no doubt, but I suspect that, in educated circles, it would be considered highly informal if not vulgar. At least, I always notice it and almost always use "If I were..." (etc.) unless I am consciously speaking informally.

-David
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Postby Interaxus » Sun May 21, 2006 10:19 pm

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Postby bellum paxque » Mon May 22, 2006 7:38 pm

"Google decides grammar point again," a newspaper might say.

I'm a little surprised at the huge predominance of "If I were you" online. But maybe there would be more of a balance between the two options in spoken English? It's useful to point out that, despite the influence of blogs and other forms of unedited/unrefereed publication online, the web remains much more formal than the spoken language. So your case may not be as overstated as you think.

[Alert: grammatical rambling ensues]

There's another point that should be made about contrary-to-fact conditions in today's English. In my experience, people often use a double conditional instead of the subjunctive/conditional construction (at least in past contrary-to-fact):

Normative: If he had come, I would have given him a piece of my mind.
Actual: If he would have come, I would have given him a piece of my mind.

But of course it's normally spoken like this:

Spoken: If he'd'a come, I'da given'em a piece'uh my mind.

The phonetic development goes like this, I think:
If he would have -> If he would've -> [(heard) If he would of ]-> if he'd'a

I think - though I can't document this - that the same applies to present contrary-to-fact conditions. For example:

Actual: If you would just go, you would probably like it
(Spoken: If yuh'd just go, yuh'd prolly like it)

Whereas I'd probably say,

Me: If you just went, you'd probably like it

Both are current, probably.

(Am I confusing the should-would conditional [future less vivid] with present contrary-to-fact? I don't think so. I think there's a big difference between

If you should go, you would enjoy yourself
and
If you went, you would enjoy yourself

Should/would is almost non-existent in spoken English.

-David
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Postby Interaxus » Wed May 24, 2006 12:03 am

Hi W&P,

Thanks for putting Google into grammatical perspective.

If he would have come, I would have given him a piece of my mind.

I think the form "if he would have" is a specifically American usage. As a British expat I may not be fully up-to-date but I can’t recall ever having heard it on my trips back to England. As an admirer of the vigour and creativeness of American English, I nevertheless shudder a little at this particular ‘innovation’.

Regards,
Int
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