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?

  • 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). – FumbleFingers Aug 22 '14 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). – Jasper Locke Aug 22 '14 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 '14 at 21:14
  • Shouldn't this be on English Language Learners ? – Kris Aug 23 '14 at 6:08

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) – Araucaria Aug 23 '14 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 '14 at 1:39

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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