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Is it possible to have a present tense verb in a sentence like this:

If you resign now, you'd feel sorry later.

Or must you always follow the second conditional format, arriving at a sentence like this:

If you resigned now, you'd feel sorry later.

My goal is not to necessarily to produce a second conditional sentence, but rather to see whether the first sentence is acceptable, whether interpreted as a second conditional or not. It seems acceptable; what explanation is there for this?

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    As soon as you start slinging around terms like “second conditional”, you have left the path of wisdom.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 15:42

4 Answers 4

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It should be:

If you resign now, you'll feel sorry later.

Since you're predicting the future, you use the ordinary future tense.

You use would with a counter-factual:

If you had resigned yesterday, you'd feel sorry today.

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  • Your authority for such a bold statement ('It should be')? As Matt Gutting has said, 'What we're really looking for (on this or any other Stack Exchange site) is a supported answer[:] one that you can support with authoritative references.' The fact that there are different views needs to be taken into consideration. Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 0:34
  • Speaking English as a native for 50+ years.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 0:37
  • 1
    I have the advantage then, Sir. Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 0:39
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According to EnglishPage [modified slightly]:

Present Real Conditional

FORM

[If / When ... Simple Present ..., ... Simple Present ...]

USE: The Present Real Conditional is used to talk about what you normally do in real-life situations.

eg: If [/When] I go to a friend's house for dinner, I usually take a bottle of wine.

Present Unreal Conditional

FORM

[If ... Simple Past ..., ... would + bare infinitive ...]

USE: The Present Unreal Conditional is used to talk about what you would generally do in imaginary situations [including situations under serious consideration].

eg: If I won the lottery, I would buy a house.

[Note the indication of sequentiality; buying the house is in the future wrt winning the lottery, though this construction is classified as the 'Present Unreal Conditional'.] This would indicate the choice

If you resigned now, you'd feel sorry later.

here. However, I suspect that

If you resign now, you'll feel sorry later.

is used just about as frequently.

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It is certainly not true that you must always follow the prototypical second conditional format, namely past tense in the if-clause and would + infinitive in the main clause.

It is worth quoting Michael Lewis in The English Verb (p148) to see why this is the case:

It is the verb phrase not the sentence which is the fundamental unit requiring analysis. Certain combinations are, for semantic reasons, highly frequent, while others are less frequent or even impossible. ...

A particular misunderstanding frequently arises in the teaching of so-called conditional sentences. It is common to teach three basic kinds. ...

If students are taught only the first, second and third conditionals, they will know only a small, admittedly highly frequent, sub-set of the possibilities. It is not necessary to teach the fourth conditional, the fifth conditional, etc., but it is important to recognise that the possibility arises from the meaning of the individual clauses ... . The explanation of the use of a form in a conditional sentence is exactly the same as that of its occurrence in any other utterance. The underlying principle behind this is that each main verb phrase is treated independently.

So on this basis we can speculate that the present tense is used in If you resign now, because the 'you' may indeed be seriously thinking of resigning. Using the past tense If you resigned now could imply that the speaker feels this is a more remote possibility. Similarly, the use of will in the main clause (you will feel sorry later) makes it a stronger prediction than you'd feel sorry later.

There are many Google hits for this combination of tenses with the string "if you do that you would". For example:

If you do that, you would be surprised how competitive we could be.

If you do that, you would have no problems — but if you shut the car off with the radio on, it would draw the battery down over a week's time.

If you do that, you would be caught-up in the chicken and egg question.

If you do that, you would exceed your standard quota of three felonies a day.

If you do that you would not able to use ffmpeg in other software.

And if you do that, you would have enough to pay for something better.

If you do that you would be compromising with reality.

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These two sentences mean different things.

If you resign now, you will regret it.
If you resigned now, you would regret it.

The first says this: if x happens, y will follow. It is a prediction. The second sentence is less a prediction than a contemplation of a hypothetical scenario.

The real-world context determines which formulation to use.

Let's say you are an advisor to a person holding political office, and that person is about to go on live TV in a few minutes and resign publicly. You might grab your last chance to dissuade them and say If you resign now, you will regret it. But if you are discussing a course of action with that person, carefully weighing options, assessing costs and benefits, you might say If you resigned now, you would regret it.

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