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.

If the author had spent any time in China, they would know that an “engineer” in China is NOT the same as an “engineer” in the USA. This is a mistranslation. An “engineer” in China is equivalent to a “technician” in the USA.

Is this correct, or should would be followed by have known?

Please explain the rule.

share|improve this question
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If the author had spent time in China, according to the quote, they would not only have learned that an engineer is different there, but would presumably retain that knowledge today... hence the present tense.

You might object that the author wrote the mistaken passage in the past, and should therefore be referred to using the past tense, but it is a common conceit to talk about literary works and similar things in the present tense: "In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare writes about...", etc.

share|improve this answer
1  
Yes, if you are talking about a hypothetical past event, use the conditional perfect, if it is a hypothetical present state, use the present conditional. –  z7sg Ѫ May 20 '11 at 19:41
    
+1 for "common conceit", which I don't think I've seen used correctly and in earnest in decades! –  FumbleFingers Aug 17 '11 at 17:14
add comment

Both would know and would have known can be correct, but the tense is different. Compare the following two versions:

The author keeps making the same mistake. If the author had spent any time in China, they would know that an “engineer” in China is NOT the same as an “engineer” in the USA but they have not and thus they do not know this.

The author kept making the same mistake. If the author had spent any time in China, they would have known that an “engineer” in China is NOT the same as an “engineer” in the USA but they had not and thus they did not know this.

Use would know when the result of the (counterfactual) conditional is in the present, and would have known for the past.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Definitely would have known. Let me explain it with a very simple story.

Imagine that today, right now, I'm telling you a story which happened at a specific moment in the past. The story goes:

I remember when I was working as a web developer. It was an easy job from the beginning, but later, as I started developing more difficult applications, I had to work with John. I still remember how I met him. John had come to my office one day to offer his help and his timing was just right.

Notice the use of had come: because he came to my office already before the time the story is taking place at, therefore he had come even further in the past.

OK, let's go on.

This one time, we were working a huge project together. The client was very serious about the job and we were supposed to complete the task in a very short time period. Unfortunately, we failed, because John wasn't skilled in PHP enough and we were unable to code what we had to. If only John had coded PHP more, he would have known how to code what we were asked.

Again, had coded is talking about a point further in the past, before the story happened, and it resulted in John not knowing what he needed to. Therefore, we wish that he would have known - but he didn't.

Imagine we have a time machine and we travel back to the past, exactly to the point when we're coding and finishing the project and I'm talking to John:

"John, I think we won't be able to finish this one. The PHP is too difficult for us both. If only you had more experience with this language, you would know how to finish it, but I believe you don't.

Notice the use of would know.

EDIT: To draw a conclusion:

If the result of a certain event/condition (if ...) reflects the present and matters right now, you use would know, but if it reflects only the past and mattered only then, you use would have known.

The final conclusion:

If I had coded PHP more, I would have known it better when I was offered the job, but it doesn't matter anymore, as I'm retired.

vs.

If I had coded PHP more, I would know it better, but I don't, so I cannot take the job, although I'd like to. I need to find something else now.

Therefore, both are correct, it only depends on what you are trying to say.

share|improve this answer
    
I don't understand this answer, plus 'had came' is a grammatical error. –  z7sg Ѫ May 20 '11 at 19:39
    
I fixed "had came" right after I posted it, it was a typo. And if you don't understand this answer, for that I'm very sorry. –  RiMMER May 20 '11 at 19:41
2  
I guess I should explain myself really... it's just that you start off saying it should be 'would have known' but when you reach the end, you use 'would know' which to my mind is the correct form as used in the original quote. –  z7sg Ѫ May 20 '11 at 20:02
add comment

If the author had spent any time in China, they would know that an “engineer” in China is NOT the same as an “engineer” in the USA. This is a mistranslation. An “engineer” in China is equivalent to a “technician” in the USA. Is this correct, or should would be followed by have known?

Please explain the rule.

The rule is that we use grammatical structure to say what we want. That means that both 'would know' and 'would have known' are correct and grammatical. You may be confused because you have heard that tenses have to match, that there is such a thing as Concord of Tenses or Sequence of Tenses in English.

There are no such rules.

1) If there were we wouldn't be able to express many thoughts.

2) If those rules had actually been established for English, we wouldn't be able to express many thoughts.

Sentences 1) & 2), above, illustrate what I mean, as do the original sentences.

'would know' = the person would know that fact in the general/habitual/always sense

'would have known' = the person would have realized/known at that particular time

share|improve this answer
add comment

The tense in the 'if' clause is the past perfect, and the tense in the main clause is the perfect conditional:

If you had worked harder, you would have passed the exam.

So

If the author had spent any time in China, they would have known that [...]

is correct.

share|improve this answer
1  
"would have known" is correct, but "would know" is also correct (with a different meaning). –  psmears May 20 '11 at 20:30
    
@psmears: "would have known" is false here? –  user8568 May 20 '11 at 20:41
    
"would have known" is fine: it depends whether the author intends to imply "(they would have known) but they didn't", or "(they would know) but they don't". –  psmears May 20 '11 at 21:13
    
@psmears: I don't know what the author intends to imply but i know the "if structure"!;) –  user8568 May 20 '11 at 21:23
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

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