Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Had you been there, you would have understood.

or

If you had been there, you would have understood.

Which of the above sentences is a grammatically correct sentence or usually preferred over the other? Please throw some light on the correct usage of similar kinds of sentences.

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

Again, both are fine from a grammatical/syntactic standpoint, and the meaning is the same. Nevertheless, I'll try to shed some light on the topic.

Had you been there, you would have understood.
If you had been there, you would have understood.

Both imply that the one receiving the message was not there, supplying a contrary to fact scenario for a hypothetical situation in the past. Perhaps the speaker is trying to suspend disbelief, shock or awe to get on with a story.

You could also add some clauses to the same structure. Maybe a teacher is going over test results with a student who did not follow directions:

If you had been there on time for the instructions, you would have understood that you were supposed to show all your work in the test booklet in addition to filling in your responses on the answer sheet.

Other variations might include the conditional past perfect or the simple past in the first clause:

If you would have been there, you would have understood.
If you were there, you would have understood.

I'd use either the If you'd been there past perfect contraction or the simple past, if you were there for informal conversations, maybe leaning toward the past perfect if I felt irritated or wanted to keep an audience in suspense.

For contrary to fact scenarios with results in the present, use the past tense in the first clause and the conditional mood in the present tense for the second:

If you would have been there, you would understand.
If you were there, you would understand.

Note that the mood of the second case above could be subjunctive if the state of being there is situated in the present.

share|improve this answer
1  
For contrary to fact scenarios in the past with results in the present, what you use is "If you had been there, you would understand." . The conditional phrase "If you would have been there ..." is wrong. The conditional phrase "If you were there ..." is talking about the present, and you can't follow it with "you would have understood". –  Peter Shor Feb 11 '13 at 20:23
1  
"If you would have been there, you would have understood" might be a little wordy, but it is grammatically correct. Likewise, "If you were there" can be followed with "you would have understood," but it is not actually the subjunctive (editing original post accordingly). –  Adam Feb 11 '13 at 22:06
    
While I don't know that I'd cite this source in a formal paper on the topic, I don't think it to be a stretch of epistemic modality to justify the correctness of using a conditional to present a counterfactual condition: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  Adam Feb 11 '13 at 22:39

They're both fine. "Had you been there" sounds a bit archaic or formal to my ear but there are probably (native English speaking) communities that prefer it. "If you'd been there" is probably even more common.

share|improve this answer

protected by tchrist Feb 23 '13 at 0:09

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.