If you were ever in trouble, I would give you all the help you needed.

Can you explain the tense choice for the bolded verb?

How about "all the help you would need" or "all the help you need"?

  • There is something about the subjunctive, If you were, I would... that calls for needed, though I am not the linguist to answer why. It doesn't work for me to repeat would need and need (a bare infinitive or a second person singular present tense) doesn't sound right to me either. If you were..., I would give you all you needed (of whatever) is the only option that *sounds correct to me. :/ – anongoodnurse Oct 30 '14 at 22:50
  • Yes, Indeed , the answer is " needed " – 18yoPolyglot Oct 30 '14 at 22:52
  • I know it's about the subjunctive, but why does it call for " needed " ? – 18yoPolyglot Oct 30 '14 at 22:53
  • "I would" is not real, so it has to be matched to subjunctive which is also not real. Read about subjunctive here -> en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjunctive_mood – Roaring Fish Oct 30 '14 at 23:55

This phenomenon is called the 'modal preterite' by the author below. Tense backshifting is a way to denote modality in English.

EG: 'If it rained tomorrow, we'd be out of luck.' 'It's time you went home.' 'It would be best you left.'

It is closely related to the were-subjunctive, but many researchers don't consider it to be a subjunctive, because it lacks a unique historical form.

Source: Harsh, Wayne. The Subjunctive in English. 1968. p 110.

The English grammar of Quirk, et al. also covers this phenomenon.


*...I would give you all the help you needed/would need/need.

The first two are grammatical and mean the same thing.

The third is not grammatically correct.

  • Why ? could you explain it in more detail please ? – 18yoPolyglot Oct 30 '14 at 22:51
  • Those all seem fine to me (with subtle differences in meaning). Why do you answer the way you did? – Mitch Oct 31 '14 at 18:07
  • Because the conditional requires the past tense in a subsequent dependent clause. ...If I were rich, I would give you all you WANTED. – WS2 Oct 31 '14 at 21:08
  • Thank you , then How about this one ? ... If you had ever been in trouble, I would have given you all the help you had needed. – 18yoPolyglot Nov 4 '14 at 14:14
  • @18yoPolyglot That is alright, except that you don't need the second 'had'. Should be '...all the help you needed'. – WS2 Nov 4 '14 at 18:56

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.