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Now this is confusing... I wanna know the difference between the following sentences:

If you were there, I would see you.

If you had been there, I would have seen you.

What's the difference between 'were' and 'had been'? And could we use 'were' instead of 'had been' in the 2nd sentence?

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  • The first one is effectively a "subjunctive" usage where the "I would see you" part strongly implies either a "present tense irrealis" (you're not there right now - but if you were, I'd see you), OR a future situation (if you were to be there at some point in the future, I would see you then). Aug 22, 2014 at 20:36
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    Both are subjunctive; the first is past (or were) subjunctive and could be described, in ESL terms, as second conditional, which states a present counterfactual as @FumbleFingers above has said; the second is the "pluperfect/past perfect" (emphasis on the quotes) subjunctive and, in ESL, is called third conditional, which states a past counterfactual (something happened in the past and if it hadn't, x would be the result). Aug 22, 2014 at 21:06
  • You will find this Wiki article helpful. It is on the question of 'conditional sentences', i.e. ones that begin with 'if'. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_conditional_sentences
    – WS2
    Aug 22, 2014 at 21:14
  • Shouldn't this be on English Language Learners ?
    – Kris
    Aug 23, 2014 at 6:08

3 Answers 3

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Scenario #1 - It is the present (now) and you are not here:

"If you were there, I would see you."

Scenario #2 - In the past and you were not there

"If you had been there, I would have seen you."

Scenario #3 - In the future

"If you are here tomorrow, I will see you."

In the first two cases, are counter-factual

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    Not sure it's that simple: Scenario 1: If you were there tomorrow I would see you (future). Scenario 2: If you'd been in the line up tomorrow I would have seen you (future). Scenario 3 If you're there tomorrow, I'll see you. (future) Aug 23, 2014 at 0:01
  • @Araucaria I'm struggling to think of a context in which your scenario 2 would see use, if it's even a valid construction.
    – Wlerin
    Aug 23, 2014 at 1:39
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It feels like the first two scenarios are subjunctive, but the last one is conditional. "If you were there" is an English subjunctive mood. The indicative mood for the pronoun I is was, but since it's subjunctive we use were.

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If you are there, I will see you. (Future main clause, subject to the action in dependent clause)

If you were there, I would see you. Here, both the actions didn't happen. It's like, I couldn't meet you because you were not there.

If you had been there, I would have seen/ met you. Similar to the second example; subjunctive; as both the actions didn't take place.

The difference in the second and third will be clear when used in reported speech. E.g., Direct speech: He said to Joe, "If you are at home, I shall meet you. Reported speech: He said to Joe that if Joe was at home, he would meet him.

Direct speech: He said, "As she was sleeping, I did not disturb her." Reported speech: He said as she had been sleeping, he hadn't disturbed her."

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