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Here is what an English native said:

If he felt this seven years ago, we would not have had a problem.

I think the correct version should be:

If he had felt this seven years ago, we would not have had a problem.

Is there a difference in meaning between the two?

Later edit, here is the source: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/14/business/who-s-afraid-of-eliot-spitzer.html

The context is this:

Donald Simon, one of the three independent trustees who resigned from Mr. Navellier's board, said: ''I would find it amusing if he is leading the charge in governance when seven years ago it was a different attitude. Maybe he has learned this is the way to go. If he felt this seven years ago, we would not have had a problem.''

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    Yes, the "had" is required there. It's possible, though, that the speaker said If he'd felt this..." quickly enough that the d was hard to distinguish.
    – Hellion
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 19:02
  • You're right. Ordinarily both clauses of a conditional have to lie on the same side of the realis/irrealis divide. Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 19:02
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    As I just said in a different comment on a different subject, if the result is the same either way, there's nothing to choose except presuppositions. The first one is somewhat less committal about his past feelings than the second one, but the point is the same in either case. Most people wouldn't think twice at hearing either version, so the simpler one is more likely to be emitted by default, whatever the beliefs of the speaker about the proper use of the past perfect. Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 19:39

2 Answers 2

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You're correct that had is technically required for proper grammar. This is the "past perfect" tense, while I felt is the "simple perfect". What difference does using 'had' make to those two verb tenses, and if so, what is it? describes the differences in general between them.

However, in this particular context, had serves little purpose. The qualifier 7 years ago makes it clear when the supposed feeling would have taken place. In casual speech and writing, redundant auxiliaries like this are often elided, with no effect on the clarity.

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I think there are three errors here:

''I would find it amusing [that] he is leading [now] the charge in governance when seven years ago he had a different attitude. Maybe he has learned this is the way to go. Had he felt this way seven years ago, we would not have had a problem.''

or, without that "would" that seems to trouble some:

''I find it amusing he is leading [now] the charge in governance when seven years ago he had a different attitude. Maybe he has learned this is the way to go. Had he felt this way seven years ago, we would not have had a problem.''

or:

''I would find it amusing if he were leading [now] the charge in governance when seven years ago he had a different attitude. [But] Maybe he has learned this is the way to go. Had he felt this way seven years ago, we would not have had a problem.''

The OP is confusing on whether "he is leading or not," so I provided more alternatives.

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    There's nothing wrong with amusing if. And he had would be more precise, but this was speech. In speech, "correcting" an if clause to an inverted Had he is just grotesque.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 22:57
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    In fact, I would find it amusing that is noticeably worse than the original, since it leaves the conditional dangling. Commented Apr 15, 2015 at 23:08
  • @TimLymington Cf. New York - Volume 37, Issues 2-9 - Page 166 2004 I would find it amusing that I can't find the hostess (oh, she's there, pretty enough to be hovered around by a pack of dry-clean-jeaned, Fendi- monogram-loafered satyrs). Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 0:14
  • @ColinFine Cf. "Had he" in speech: Gilligan's Wake: A Novel - Page 263 Tom Carson - 2007 - ‎ And finally, he said, had he and his compatriots been informed that afterward they'd need to prove day in day out and all the time that they'd been deserving, they might well have waved the fleet off. Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 0:47
  • Marius : It is a curious delusion that one counterexample makes any locution acceptable. The internet is a big place, and bloggers, journalists, even (hush!) ELU contributors make mistakes. The language can change to accommodate them, but it takes a long time and a lot of examples. (You also seem to have misunderstood what Colin meant by "in speech".) Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 9:05

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