The following is a sentence from The Summing Up by Somerset Maugham.

For my part I do not think I am any better or any worse than most people, but I know that if I set down every action in my life and every thought that has crossed my mind the world would consider me a monster of depravity.

It seems to me that 'set' in the if-clause is in the past-form because the if-clause represents a hypothetical condition. Then I think 'has' should be 'had' for the same reason. Am I wrong?

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    Set is in the present tense there. – Robusto Jun 4 '15 at 14:55
  • @Robusto: no, set is in the past. I don't think the sub clause needs to be in the past here (although it could be). Let me try to think of a good example where it needs to be in the present. – Peter Shor Jun 4 '15 at 14:59
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    I would say it's past tense. Note if I wrote down every thought. Present is also possible, but not the likeliest reading, imo. – John Lawler Jun 4 '15 at 15:00
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    The problem is that the OP seems to believe that the past perfect must be used everywhere it seems to fit an algorithm. In fact, it's rare, mostly contracted, and not generally distributed according to algorithmic rules. – John Lawler Jun 4 '15 at 15:02
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    @Robusto: it's a hypothetical that is followed by would and not will. That's a very strong indication that set should be past tense here. – Peter Shor Jun 4 '15 at 15:02

You are correct in believing that set here is past form (which in this case happens to be identical with the present form) signifying hypothetical (or irrealis, or subjunctive).

There are two reasons why the perfect has crossed should not be put in the past perfect.

  • Since there is no past reference in the main clause, there is no past 'Reference Time' to which a past perfect could be related. Maugham is talking about his present.

  • Has crossed occurs in a relative clause which is not necessarily implicated in the 'hypotheticality' of the main clause. Maugham is not talking about hypothetical actions and thoughts which might have occurred at the hypothetical time when he might set them down; he is talking about the actual actions he has historically performed and actual thoughts that have historically crossed his mind.

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    The distinction is indeed whether "has crossed" is included in the hypothetical. Consider the sentences: "if John told everybody that he had been visited by aliens, he would end up in a mental hospital" and "if John told everybody that he has been visited by aliens, he would end up in a mental hospital". I think that the second sentence makes it seem much more likely that John has indeed been visited by aliens. – Peter Shor Jun 4 '15 at 20:41
  • @PeterShor A really nifty clarification. – StoneyB Jun 4 '15 at 21:07

This type of conditional is the second type: If+past tense, would The fact that the verb "has" is in the present tense has nothing do to with the structure of the conditionals. The usage of has here is correct.

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