I recently tried to translate a German sentence to English and I failed. I won't give you the German version but rather the background configuration of it.

Two people talk about an event that has happened in the past. They do not know how exactly it happened though, let's say there are 2 options how it could have gone down. They have no information but they do know that under a certain condition one outcome was almost certain. Here is an example that I think does work in English (if not then please correct me):

If you haven't seen the movie, then you have definitely missed out on something.

Another example without a negative:

If Marie studied then she passed the exam.

Now here comes the version that didn't work.

If Thomas knew, that Marie needed the book he would have brought it with him to class.

or another try:

In case that Thomas was aware that Marie needed the book, then he has probably brought it with him to class.

I don't know if that is correct or not. Anyway... I was wondering why the same configuration can be expressed in the movie example quite easily while I have to find all kinds of workaround for the book-example. My idea was, that the verb to know (with a few exceptions) does not make sense in perfect aspect and that using the simple past doesn't work because the if makes it look conditional. Is that possible? And also, what is the grammatical name for that configuration? How can I express the idea for the book-example in proper English?

  • The rules here say to avoid the static of "Thank you" at the end of your question post. You can use a comment to thank a specific user who helps you, but any thank you comment in the question post will be edited out.
    – user21497
    Jan 16, 2013 at 13:37

1 Answer 1


The final sentence should be this:

If Thomas had known that Marie needed the book, he would have brought it with him to class.

Past perfect conditional (it is a conditional, which is why the if makes it look conditional) here is perfectly correct and grammatical and standard idiomatic English. The sentence makes perfect sense if you disabuse yourself of the wrongheaded notions "that the verb to know (with a few exceptions) does not make sense in perfect aspect and that using the simple past doesn't work because the if makes it look conditional".

The second sentence should probably be this:

If Marie studied, then she has probably passed the exam.

I think it should be "studied" because the sentence is talking about an event (studying) that took place before the exam and it's talking about something that's just occurred: the exam. Marie's just finished taking the exam (which is what using the present perfect implies here).

If you say "If Marie has studied,...", I think the normal follow-up would have to be "then she {will probably / probably will [CHOOSE ONE]} pass the exam."

The sentence about the movie is grammatical and idiomatic.

  • Thanks for your answer! It was already helpful. However, your version of the Thomas sentence is NOT what I am trying to convey. I don't know whether Thomas brought the book or not but I do know that he certainly did so if he was aware that she needed it. Your sentence implies that he did not bring it with him and that is not what I am trying to say. To me the semantic configurations of all sentences are the same (the tenses maybe not), your version of the last sentence doesn't fit in there.
    – Emanuel
    Jan 16, 2013 at 13:33
  • You might be able to express the idea with a different conditional: "If Thomas knew that Marie needed the book, then he (certainly) brought it with him to class".
    – user21497
    Jan 16, 2013 at 13:39
  • 1
    I think that last is as close as one can get without explicitly adding "and he might well have brought it anyway". If just isn't that clear between "if and only if" and "if, and perhaps if not". (There exists iff to specifically refer to the "if and only if" sense, leaving if to refer to the "if, and perhaps if not" sense, but that's jargon from logic in mathematics and philosophy and not generally used outside of that).
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 16, 2013 at 14:21
  • @Jon: Yep, I agree that it's about as close as one can get using everyday English rather than logic jargon. The speaker merely assumes that Thomas brought the book if he knew that Marie needed it, but he doesn't know for certain that he did, which is what the OP wants to express. "Certainly" is merely an optional emphatic that says something about the speaker's level of certainty rather than anything about Thomas's actually having brought the book.
    – user21497
    Jan 16, 2013 at 14:35
  • 1
    There is also, If Thomas knew that Marie needed the book, he will have brought it with him to class. which could be uttered during class or right before class comes to order.
    – Jim
    Jan 16, 2013 at 14:50

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