# What to use for hypothetically completed future actions

I was talking to a friend where I had to make a hypothetical statement about an activity that was completed in the future. So I came up with the following statements.

If he continued college, he would have completed his college by 2013.

If he continued college, he would complete college by 2013.

The second statement doesn't work because it just talks about the action that happen in that unreal future. Not completed. I can't say the following either because it makes it more real:

If he continued college, he will have completed college by 2013.

So is the first one the right way of saying this?

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A minor point, but "complete his college" sounds funny, so I'll say "complete his education".

For the hypothetical clause, there are two possibilities here. First, he's either stopping now, or he's still going but has already decided to stop:

If he were to continue college ...

Second, he stopped going to college some time ago:

If he had continued college ...

If he hasn't yet decided whether or not to stop, you should use "If he continues college ..."

For the rest of the sentence, you can't use would have completed, because he hasn't graduated yet. However, English allows the use of the present for the future in this situation. For the first case, you get

If he were to continue college, he would complete his education by 2013.

Perfect.

Let's try the second case:

If he had continued college, he would complete his education by 2013.

This doesn't sound right to me, since I'm so used to "If he had ... he would have ...". Normally, I'd use the progressive in a situation like this.

If he had continued college, he would be completing his education by 2013.

However, I don't like using the progressive form with "by 2013". So let's use the "going to" form of the future with "would":

If he had continued college, he would be going to complete his education by 2013.

The verb form is a little long, but I think this is the best alternative.

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First, It's probably that I picked the wrong structure at the beginning, which keeps me moving to 'would have'. Just to be on the right track there is no way that 'would have+ participle' would imply future actions, right? Second, by 'his college' I meant 'his college degree'; does it still sound dumb? Third, if I say: If he had continued college, he will have completed his education by 2013. Does it strike a chord, or should I keep my mouth shut? By the way, thank you for your time! – Noah Apr 12 '12 at 13:19
@Noah: I don't think you can use "will have completed" for a conditional. – Peter Shor Apr 12 '12 at 13:20
Sounds interesting. Could you have a look at this – Noah Apr 12 '12 at 13:23
@Noah: Oops. I didn't mean conditional ... I meant counterfactual, that is, something which is definitely not going to happen. – Peter Shor Apr 12 '12 at 13:48
Umm! But in some cases using the unreal would structure results in something that may happen, for example: If you were to explain genes to me, what would it be? In most cases the answerer will explain genes if he knows about it. – Noah Apr 12 '12 at 16:32

For the first clause (continue college):

• If it is purely hypothetical (i.e. you wish to discuss the idea of continuing college, even if it is impossible) use the past tense. Otherwise use the present tense.

• If the decision is in the past, use the perfect aspect.

For the second clause (complete college by 2013):

• Show that it takes place in the future by using will

• If the first clause is in the past tense, so is the second (will --> would).

So we have the following four possibilities:

1. He might continue college in future. Use present simple:

If he continues college, he will complete college by 2013.

2. He might have decided to continue college in the past, but we don't know yet. Use present perfect:

If he has continued college, he will complete college by 2013.

3. You wish to discuss the idea of continuing college in future without referring to whether it is possible or not. Use past simple:

If he continued college, he would complete college by 2013.

4. You wish to discuss the idea that he might have continued college in the past, even though you know that he hasn't. Use past perfect:

If he had continued college, he would complete college by 2013.

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If he continued college, he would have graduated by 2013.

Or

If he continued college, he would have been finished by 2013.

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First, let rewrite the first sentence of your question to comply to the recommended practice required for the answer to your question.

"I was talking to a friend and I had to make a hypothetical statement about an activity that would be completed in the future."

Past hypothesis, present accomplishment

I could have been a singer and I should have a million dollars now.

I might have been a singer and I might have a million dollars now.

Were I to have been a singer, I would have a million dollars now.

Present hypothesis, future accomplishment

I could be a pilot now and then in twenty years' I will have flown a million miles.

I should be pilot now and then in twenty years' I shall have flown a million miles.

It is impossible for me to be a pilot due to my eye sight. Were I to be a pilot now, in twenty years' I would have flown a million miles.

Future hypothesis is similar to present hypothesis

Affirmative

He is deeply considering that if he continues college now (rather than next year), he will complete college in 2013.

Optative resulting in speculative outcome

He has quite a number of choices. He could continue college now, and then he would complete college in 2013.

Speculative with possible outcome

Despite his decision not to, if he continued college now, he will have completed college in 2013.

Unlikelyhood with impossible outcome

It is unfortunate that he died, but if he were to continue college now, he would have completed college in 2013.

Concerning the comment that the last example should be "if he had continued" - it would not denote a past impossible situation, because it is a speculative rather than an impossibility subjunctive.

The impossibility subjunctive requires the narrator's view to be temporally displaced into the future of the event.

Therefore, if the narrative is the present, its impossibility subjunctive would have to use the past or past-perfect tense.

Even if the event is in future with respect to the current narrative, the impossibility subjunctive requires the temporal displacement of the narrator to be placed after that future event. (BTW, temporal does not mean "temporary", but "time-based".)

Need to differentiate between a future expectation, a future subjunctive, and a present subjunctive.

Future expected acquisition of state due to completion of event:
(He is graduating today.) Next year, he will have been a mathematician for a year.

Future subjunctive acquisition of state requiring temporal displacement of tenses:
(Were he to have continued school, he would graduate today.) Next year, he would have been a mathematician for a year.

Present subjunctive event (without acquiring state) requires temporal displacement of tenses:
(Were he to have continued school, he would graduate today.) Today, he would be a mathematician.

The classic example of Present Impossibility Subjunctive is

If I were a bird, I would sing all day.

I he were alive now he would continue college. If he were to continue college, he would graduate in 2013.

Past Speculative Subjunctive
He is a rather intelligent fellow and had a high chance of being a mathematician. He could have been a mathematician rather than a carpenter.

Future impossibility due to past speculative condition
If he had continued college, he would have graduated last year. If he had continued college, he would have been a mathematician for a year, next year.

Using or not using past-perfect tense for a future subjunctive is illustrated:

Future subjunctive to narrate acquisition of state due to completion of event:
Were he to pursue his Masters', he would have completed it next year.

Future subjunctive to narrate completing of an event without acquisition of a state:
Were he to pursue his Masters', he would be completing next year.

Future speculative:
He has started reading for his Masters'. If all goes well, he would complete it next year.

Future expected possibility due to past condition
Fortunately he had continued college. Next year, he will have been a mathematician for a year.

If you disagree with the aspect of temporal displacement of the narrative of a subjunctive, you need to tell me how to differentiate between narrating

• the completion of a future subjunctive event ("subjunctively" acquired a state).
• the completing of a future subjunctive event ("subjunctively" acquiring a state).
• a future subjunctive event (no state acquisition being narrated).
• the future completion of an expected event (expected acquisition of state).

Whatever you interpret from grammar books, even if you are a respected grammarian, first find out if your structure is able to make such a differentiation. If you can/could, let me know.

You cannot say that we have to use the future subjunctive in place of a perfected future subjunctive.

You cannot say that we have to restrict ourselves from being able to narrate a perfected future of a subjunctive. You cannot say that it is not possible to narrate a perfected future of a subjunctive.

You also cannot say that we have to restrict ourselves from being able to differentiate between future subjunctive, future perfected subjunctive and a future expectation.

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Swan's book and a number of other resources say that 'would have been' in the second clause of conditional statements is only used in past hypothetical situations. So I am confused as to how did you come up with the last example claiming to be used for future unreal situations? – Noah Apr 12 '12 at 5:47
I think some of those sentences are not quite right. – Jim Apr 12 '12 at 5:59
Agree with the above two comments, some of those are suspect. In particular I think the final one should read either "[...] if he had continued college, [...]" or "[...] he would complete college in 2013". – Graham Snyder Apr 12 '12 at 11:21