In a crowded market, I'm pushing someone in front of me aside in order to get my way through. The guy turns around, arguing why I'm pushing him. I reply: (1) If I don't push you, how can I get through? (2) If I didn't push you, how could I get through? (3) If I hadn't pushed you, how could I have got through? (4) If I weren't pushing you, how could I be getting through?

My main problem is: The decision of the push has happened. It can't be changed. It seems that I should use Sentence 3. However, the action of the push is happening and the action of passing through hasn't finished. It seems that using sentence 4 is logical, but it sounds weird, doesn't it? Also, if my intention to reply him is to put this situation in a objective situation, like when we discuss a decision a protagonist makes in a story, does Sentence 1 make sense to show my intention? Is Sentence 2 better to show the same intention? Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

  • 1
    How big's the other guy? Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 23:38
  • Whichever of the options you choose, I would suggest that the last thing that will concern the fellow being pushed, is the correctness of your grammar! I think your best course would be to simply say 'excuse me please'.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 23:50
  • lol ... Are you serious? It's a fictitious situation. If it will effect the sentence you'd use, can you advise me in two situations, one with a very tall and sturdy guy, the other with a short and thin one.
    – JJcat
    Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 23:54
  • Well the type of bloke who goes through a market physically shoving people out of the way, is not usually gentile enough to make sure he gets his grammar right. Provided the pusher is a fairly sturdy bloke, the words he would use as he pushed would probably be something like 'Get out of the bloody way, you'.But if you want me to be utterly ridiculous I would suggest he say: 'So sorry to shove you old boy, but were I not doing that, there is no way I would be able to get past'.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 0:15
  • 1
    The most natural and unambiguous scenario: 1) You push the guy. 2) He turns around and says, “Why are you pushing me?” [vel sim]. 3) You reply, “To get through”. (And realistically, 4) He punches you in the nose, calls your mother obscenities, and gets back to what he was doing before you suddenly decided to start pushing him unprovokedly.) Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 1:25

1 Answer 1


If the guy turns around to ask you why you're pushing him, then obviously you haven't yet pushed past him yet. Consequently, any answer predicated on your having already pushed past him is factually inaccurate. Option 3 ("If I hadn't pushed you, how could I have gotten through?") clearly falls into this camp, and option 2 ("If I didn't push you, how could I get through?") comes very near to doing so, since it couches the answer in a past action ("If I didn't..."). Option 2 seems a bit misguided to me anyway, because technically it answers the question "Did you push me?" and because it answers that question not by responding yes or no, but by offering an if/then statement that doesn't really address the question. A more accurate answer is "Yes; I'm trying to get through."

Option 4 ("If I weren't pushing you, how could I be getting through?") responds to the question "Why were you pushing me?" (or perhaps to the question "Were you pushing me?"), not to the question "Why are you pushing me?"—although it does assert that you are still in the process of getting through, rather than that you have already gotten through.

Nevertheles, the only option of the four you give that directly responds to the question "Why are you pushing me?" is option 1: ""If I don't push you, how can I get through?"

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