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Let's say I want to describe a habit in the past (something that happened many times over and over again) in the form of a conditional statement. Is the following sentence grammatically correct?

If I forgot to do my homework, I would pretend the dog ate it.

Or is it

If I had forgotten to do my homework, I would pretend the dog ate it.

Or is there another, more correct form?

  • You missed out If I forgot/had forgotten to do my homework, I would have pretended the dog ate it. Those ones would be more likely in contexts where the if clause is totally hypothetical (you never actually forgot, or you don't know if you ever forgot), but so far as I can see, yours are equivalent in any context I can think of. – FumbleFingers Jun 2 '15 at 18:03
  • Wouldn't that variant (with "would have pretended") convey a slightly different meaning, that of a one-time event rather than a habit? I.e. (1) "I never forgot my homework, but hypothetically if I would have forgotten it once, I would have surely blamed it on the dog" vs (2) "I forgot my homework many times, and every time I did I blamed it on the dog". I want to very clearly indicate meaning (2) rather than meaning (1), and I want to do it in conditional form. I think your variant is closer to meaning (1), no? – Eugene O Jun 2 '15 at 18:10
  • Never mind, sorry, just read your comment more carefully, I think you're saying the same thing – Eugene O Jun 2 '15 at 18:11
  • Yes, I think we have the same ideas about past perfect for the second clause, but the first one isn't so clear-cut. In your Oscar acceptance speech thanking everyone who helped you win, you'd say If I forgot anyone, please accept my apologies. No chance of past perfect there, but when talking about the ceremony afterwards you could say If I had forgotten anyone, at least no-one complained afterwards. Not that you'd have to use PP there, but at least it would be credible. I think yours is more like that second case (both versions are equivalent, so Keep It Simple, Stupid). – FumbleFingers Jun 2 '15 at 20:11
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The first looks at two times: the time you forgot, and the time you pretend. That the first time precedes the second is logically implied, but isn't explicitly in the sentence.

The "had forgotten" in the second tells us that there was an earlier time of forgetting, but the focus is on the pretending time that comes later.

Since each logically requires the same sequence of events, either will work.

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