Excerpted from The Hills of Triumph:

If I ever had a philosophy with which to govern my social life, even long after learning that social is often at the detriment of personal, it would have been no dfferent.

To use the subjunctive for a past thing, we usually use the past perfect, so must I ever had be changed to I ever had had?

I’m not sure, because the presence of ever seems to give us a hypothesis extending to now, justifying the past simple, which can be used for a present hypothetical situation in the protasis.

  • Not giving a full answer as others have done that, but I wouldn't have written "If I ever had had ...", I'd have put "If I had ever had ...", or "If I'd ever had ...".
    – TrevorD
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 12:28

2 Answers 2


Without getting into tedious matters of labels, you’re right that the normal sequence should probably be in the perfect in both halves, more like this:

If I had had a whatchamacallit, then it would have been different.

But perhaps the ever, or the length of the first part, served to make the writer forget about such niceties.

Or maybe it’s just that English doesn’t have so formal a sequence of tenses as is sometimes found in other languages, and so people often skate by with sequences that wouldn’t be allowed in those tongues.

  • Thank you, Tchrist. So you think the original sentence is ungrammtical?
    – Joe_Asia
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 2:30
  • @Joe_Asia Well, I wouldn’t’ve written it. Apparently someone did, though.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 2:51
  • Related.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 15:00

If we are to analyse the structure and give it descriptive name, it would be

Perfected propositional-subjunctive

To me, it is a derivative form of what I would call

Possessive propositional-subjunctive

If I had {something}, I would.
  1. Apart from a simple noun, {something} could be some form of complex entity or noun.

If {something} is formed from a verbial phrase, or an experience, that verb or experience should be completed. Simply because, logic demands that we to have the creation of a concept completed before we could hold it in our bosom to talk about it.

Even if the experience is an ongoing experience, {something} must describe a concrete existent concept for you to hug.

If I had {a house with ten bed rooms}, I would sing all day.
If I had {painted the front door}, my house would look pretty.
If I had {been painting the front door}, I would not have {answered the phone}.


If I had {}, I would {},

is not actually a past or past perfected tense.

It is the subjunctive mood, which does not have a tense of its own. The past perfected/completed tense is deployed for a subjunctive in the absence of its own tense in English.

3. Using the past or past perfected tense makes sense.

We could look at the tense system as a three dimensional space. Primarily we have the simple tenses as the first dimension

  • past
  • present
  • future
  • indefinite/infinite

We could also have a second dimension, time range, not normally applied to the infinite tense

  • punctiliar (at a point in time)
  • ongoing (aka continuous)
  • over a range of time
  • completed

However, we also could have a 3rd dimension describing the time-displacement or time-zone of when the speaker of the story is anchored on.


Anchored in the present: Today, I am going to school.
Anchored in the past: Two years ago, I had been going to school.
Anchored in the future: Three years from now, I will have been going to medical school.

The subjunctive describes hypothetical situations and in what time-zone should we anchor it? Rightly, we should anchor hypotheticals in an indefinite/infinitive time-zone.

In English grammar, there is no such distinct time-zone, but we anchor it on a past or perfected time-zones that would best allow us to pretend that it is placed in the hypothetical time-zone.

4. There are two usual modes of uses of the verb "have"

  • to denote possessing an experience
  • to denote taking an action.

I have had breakfast = I have eaten breakfast.

However, the above is not the problem/situation we are facing in your question.

The time-zones has split into two sub-spaces:

  • the subjunctive being assigned past zone, as usual
  • the actual time-zone where the hypothesis is being applied.

A. Subjunctive assigned to past time-zone,
Hypothesizing on present:

If I had {experience in Java}, I would be able to apply for the job today.

B. Subjunctive assigned to past time-zone,
Hypothesizing on the past:

If I had {had my breakfast}, I would not have {fainted} that day.
If she had {had a philosophy of live-and-let-live}, she would not have {killed herself} two years ago.

In situation B, there is a coincidence between subjunctive time-zone, and the past perfect tense:

I had {had experience in C#} which allowed me to apply for this job two years ago.
If I had {had experience in C#}, I would have {applied for this position} two years ago.

It's quite a confusing mix-up when having to describe both situations within the same sentence. Perhaps, to emphasize the hypothesizing on the possibility of a past completed situation, we could rephrase,

If it were that I had {had experience in C#}, I would have {applied for this position} two years ago.

5. The indefinite/infinite adverbs ever, never.

Describing an having had an experience, without specifying when in the past:

Have you ever seen the rain?

The conjugate of ever:

I have never seen a train

Subjunctive assigned to past time-zone,
Hypothesizing on indefinite/infinite time of experience, where the time range is anytime before now :

If you ever had {experience in C#}, it is not evident in you programming style.

Subjunctive assigned to past time-zone,
Hypothesizing on the indefinite/infinite, where the time range is anytime before two years ago :

If you had {ever had the philosophy to be kind}, you would not have {kicked me out} two years ago.

There is no need for subjunctive displacement for "touch", because its adverb "ever" has already floated it in indefinite space:

If he ever touches me again, I would smack him.

This sentence seems structural sound but illogical, because it would take forever to determine that he had never touched you anymore:

If he never touches me anymore, I would divorce him.

If I ever have {a beer}, it would be Heineken.
If I ever had {a beer}, it would have been Carlsberg.
If I ever had {had a beer}, I could have been having Guinness.

Subjunctive situation, created by infinite adverb, floating in a past but unspecified/indefinite time-displacement of a past perfected possibility:

If I ever had {a situation where I had needed his help}, it would have {been due to my lack of skills}.

which can be abbreviated to:

If I ever had {had needed his help}, it would have {been due to my lack of skills}.

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