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Free Use of Forms Expressing Unreality

§ 154.The choice of forms expressing unreality which has
been described above depends on certain kinds of clauses and
sometimes on the lexical character of the verb in the principal
clause. However, other forms expressing unreality may be used
freely, independent of any particular sentence pattern. They are
opposed to the Indicative Mood and their choice is determined by
the speaker's attitude towards the action in question.

§ 155.If an action is represented as an actual fact, the Indica-
tive Mood is used. But if it is dependent on some implied unreal

condition (i.e. an unreal condition which is not expressed by an if-
but understood from the sentence or the context), the Con-
ditional Mood is used to represent the action as contradicting re-
ality. This use of the Conditional Mood is often found in simple

The Present Conditional Mood is used with reference to the
present or future.

e.g. "Are you intending to marry her? I think it would bevery
unwise. She would bea load on you." (The implied condi-
tion is
"if you married her".)
I wouldn't sellthe picture for ten thousand dollars. It would

bea crime to sell such a picture.
I think it would be avery bad precedent to let him cut the
end of term.
When the situation refers to the past, the Past Conditional
Mood is used.

e.g. Twenty years ago I would havestrongly disapprovedof you.

(The implied condition is "if it had been twenty years ago.")
He would have saida great deal more, but he was tired.
She's a different woman now. I shouldnever have thoughtit


§ 156.The modal verbs can and may which cannot have ana-
lytical forms, are used in the form of the past tense to express
unreality. With reference to the present or future, they are fol-
lowed by the simple infinitive.

e-g. He's never asked me about it though he knows I couldnever

tellhim a lie.
With his office training he might finda job with us.

When reference is made to the past, could and might are com-
bined with the Perfect infinitive.

e-g. There was a wonderful concert at the Victoria Hall we could

have goneto. But we missed it.

Why on earth didn't he send to say that he was ill? We
might have helped him.

§ 157.Sometimes the unreal condition is not merely implied
but actually expressed in the sentence by means of a special ad-
verbial modifier of condition.

e.g. But for you, I wouldgive upeverything.

I'd never have gota job like that off my hands but for your help.

But for... is rendered in Russian as если бы не...

§ 158.The Conditional Mood and the forms could and might
are used not only in simple sentences but also in any kind of
clauses with implied condition, for example, in attributive claus-
es, object clauses, adverbial clauses, etc. They are also found in
the principal clause of a complex sentence.
e.g. And yet Butler was the last man in the world with whom you

would have associatedromance.
I know he wouldn't have enjoyedLe Roy's story.
To his surprise Mrs Garnet was not so much opposed to the

notion as he would have expected.

In the old days she would have triedto make him see why
she had done it.

§ 159.Sometimes the Conditional Mood and the forms could
and might are found in sentences without implied condition. Their
use in this case differs from the use of the Indicative Mood only
stylistically — they serve to lend the sentence a milder and more
polite shade of meaning, the Past Conditional expressing the high-
est degree of politeness,
e.g. "How long did you wait?" "I wouldsay a good five minutes."

Ask Miss Thompson when it would beconvenient to seeher.

"Isuppose I'm prepared to accept their offer." "I should
you are."

Why, I should have thoughtthere could be no two answers

to that.

I should have saidhe is nothing out of the ordinary.
Do you know Walter Gray? Couldyou writeto him?

Compare it with the similar use of the Subjunctive Mood in
Russian: Я бы сказал... , Я бы считал... , Не могли бы вы... ■

This function of the Conditional Mood and of the forms could
and might plays an important role in spoken English.

§ 160.There are a few other modal verbs and set phrases which
are the Subjunctive Mood or the Conditional Mood only by origin.
How they have ceased to express unreality. They are the modal
verbs should and ought to and the set phrases had better, would
rather, would sooner, should (would) like.

e.g. Don't you think Sybill oughtto haveher tonsils seen to?

"Will you do it?" she asked him in an uneasy tone. "Oh, I'd

much ratheryou did it," he said.

She decided that they had betterstay in town for another week.
"I shouldn't liketo have a nature like yours, Alec," his wife

She should bepleased with what she has.

Note. Note that in object clauses after would ('d) rather the same forms are
used as after the verb wish.

e.g. He'd rather they left him alone.

I'd rather he hadn't spoken in that abrupt manner.

The above modal verbs and set phrases do not express actions
depending on some unreal condition. They merely lend the sen-
tence a milder and more polite shade of meaning.


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