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I am watching a basketball game right now, and the team that I am rooting for is losing. I want to say that if they win, that would be something. Which one is the correct way to state it?

If Miami pulls this off, it would be something.
If Miami pulled this off, it would be something.
If Miami will pull this off, it will be something.

Hopefully, you get my drift.

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4 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted
1. If Miami pulls this off, it would be something.

I would not say this, but some people would. The "pulls" is not counterfactual, but the "would" usually is.

2. If Miami pulled this off, it would be something.

This is normal for the counterfactual case.

3. If Miami will pull this off, it will be something.

This is not idiomatic in any variety of English, as far as I know. We don't use "will" in a conditional clause.

The usual form for 1 and 3 would be

4. If Miami pull this off, it will be something

So the canonical forms are 4 (present, future) and 2 (past, conditional). The difference in meaning is subtle, but exists: in 4 the event seems rather more likely than in 2 (which I have described as 'counterfactual').

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+1 Nice summary. Technically 2 isn't necessarily counterfactual (because it can happen, it's just that the speaker thinks it's unlikely). A strict counterfactual would be "If Miami had pulled this off, it would have been something" (with an implicit "but they didn't"). –  psmears Jun 13 '11 at 15:28
    
@psmears: you're right, in the future everything is irrealis. But the distinctionin meaning is still there. –  Colin Fine Jun 13 '11 at 16:55
    
4 is just wrong, Miami is singular here (one team), even though it has multiple members. –  Ben Voigt Jun 14 '11 at 12:23
    
@Ben Voigt: but we can use the plural form all the same for teams, companies and other collectives; "Chelsea are the champions", "Microsoft are evil", and so on. –  user1579 Jun 14 '11 at 12:40
    
@Rhodri: There's an implied word in those sentences: "Chelsea players are the champions." "Microsoft managers are evil." That doesn't work in this scenario, because individual players don't "pull it off", the team does as a unit. –  Ben Voigt Jun 14 '11 at 12:42
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Here are a few examples.

A condition being possible in the present or the future:

If he is late, we will have to go to the airport without him.

If you heat water, it boils.

If Miami pulls this off, it will make/makes it to the final. (I believe that it is possible for Miami to pull it off.)

A condition being unreal or improbable in the present or the future:

If I were you, I would talk to my team.

If I won the lottery, I would spend the entire money on a holiday.

If Miami pulled this off, it would be something. (Implies that it is quite improbable for Miami to pull this off.)

A condition based on something that did not happen in the past:

If she had stayed in the city, she would have found a new job.

If he had known that the world would be destroyed, he never would have split the atom.

If Miami had pulled this off, I would have been going to watch the final this year. (This did not happen, but if it had, something else would have happened.)

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what about a condition being unreal or improbable in the future ? –  Anderson Silva Jun 13 '11 at 11:57
    
@Anderson Silva: Good question. Edited the answer. We use the past tense with would to denote improbability in the present or the future. (I am implying that my being you, my winning the lottery, and Miami pulling this off are all improbable or impossible.) –  Tragicomic Jun 13 '11 at 12:10
    
@Anderson Silva, @Tragicomic: There are lots of ways of indicating the future without using the verb tense, and in English, if you want to specifically indicate the future in conditionals, you have to use these. When you do that, you discover that the past tense doesn't work, at least not in my dialect. (Imagine substituting pulled for were to pull in the following sentence.) One correct way of doing this: If Miami were to pull this off in the next five minutes, it would be something. –  Peter Shor Jun 13 '11 at 13:03
    
@Peter Shor: While using the future subjunctive (as in your example) is correct, in hypothetical conditionals it is also correct to use the simple past to talk about unlikely and impossible situations. (Also see the example in @Colin Fine's example in his answer.) If he went/were to go to the party, he would meet her as opposed to if he goes to the party, he will meet her. –  Tragicomic Jun 13 '11 at 13:08
    
@Tragicomic: "If Miami pulled this off in the next five minutes, it would be something." really sounds wrong to me, while "If he went to the party tomorrow, he would meet her." sounds fine. I'm confused. –  Peter Shor Jun 13 '11 at 13:13
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It should be the first example, and here's why:

As said by yourself, Miami is 'losing', which is in the present progressive form. Thus, the verb "pull" needs to be present as well.

Then, we have "would" instead of "will". The definition of "would" is as follows:

Used as the auxiliary of the simple conditional mood (with a bare infinitive); indicating an action or state that is conditional on another. (Emphasis added)

It would be something, only if Miami pulls it off. So, we use would instead of will. I hope that explains it.

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With would, we use the past subjunctive even when we are talking about the future, if we want it to sound unlikely or impossible. –  Tragicomic Jun 13 '11 at 13:26
    
@Tragicomic: That's the present subjunctive. Past subjunctive: "If Miami had pulled it off, it would have been something." –  Ben Voigt Jun 13 '11 at 14:34
    
@Ben Voigt: Present subjunctive: "It is important he go to the party." "When Miami wins a game, I throw a party." Past subjunctive: "If Miami pulled this off, it would be something." Past perfect subjunctive or pluperfect subjunctive: "If Miami had pulled it off, it would have been something." –  Tragicomic Jun 14 '11 at 6:45
    
@Tragicomic: I guess you're right about the past perfect. Only: "It is important that he go to the party." Sounds really awkward otherwise. –  Ben Voigt Jun 14 '11 at 12:21
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As others have noted, it depends on what outcome you think is probable. But both clauses need to agree, and most of the other answers don't do this correctly.

If you expect Miami to win:

  • If Miami pulls this off, it will be something.

Otherwise (subjunctive):

  • Were Miami to pull this off, it would be something.
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