Can anyone tell me what's all this hype about? People consider the following sentence to be the future perfect subjunctive. There is no future perfect subjunctive in English and neither there is in this sentence:

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I don't see any difference in meaning if I changed the sentence to the past perfect subjunctive:

...what would have happened had you not changed your ways.

I can't think of any instance where I would be forced to employ the form used in the picture, unless I'm gravely mistaken.

My question is the following: Is there any difference in meaning between the two?

Please, englighten me as Google hasn't been helpful. I don't see any difference in:

If I had played football


If I were to have played football

besides the aspect of formality and emphasis, so why would there be any difference between the two sentences in question?

  • Dickens. A Christmas Carol. It's one of these time travel tenses. Commented Dec 25, 2015 at 13:18
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    Shouldn't your example be "If I had played football" vs. "If I were to have played football"? Also, please write an independent clause that follows the dependent if-clause".
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 25, 2015 at 13:18
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    This is a joke. It won't make any sense if you aren't familiar with Dickens' A Christmas Carol. And "were you to have [verb]ed", the putative future perfect subjunctive, is not a construction actually used in English. Commented Dec 25, 2015 at 13:26
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    The joke is that the Ghost of Christmas Future did not show Scrooge the actual future, but the future as it would have been going to be were Scrooge not to change his ways in the future. And we don't actually have a tense for that in English. Commented Dec 25, 2015 at 13:49
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    @PeterShor maybe the joke/pun is that such tense doesn't exist, hence the idea of a ghost. Or maybe that it is "scary" (for kids when studying grammar at school, at least). Or maybe because it's a bombastic/affected way to put it, just like a ghost may be, which may result in a funny situation rather than a scary one (sth like The Canterville Ghost).
    – Yay
    Commented Dec 25, 2015 at 16:05

4 Answers 4


You're right. The statement does not involve any new mood. Rather, it's a hodgepodge of already existing tenses and moods that are correctly assembled.

Unlike what's written above, authors like Douglas Adams (A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and Steven Moffat (Dr. Who) have actually farcically coined additional moods and tenses that they use and say are absolutely necessary to describe the onslaught of new and verbally precarious situations brought about by time travel as one's future so often becomes discombobulated in another's past, as everything hypothetical has already been done and put to bed, and as improbability over time becomes entirely probable and even the most unlikely things become all but certain with a time machine.

Here is an example:

You mayan arrivan on-when for any sitting you like without prior late fore-when reservation because you can book retrospectively, as it were, when you return to your own time you can have on-book haventa forewhen presooning returningwenta retrohome.

Here is another example:

When our ship arrivesed at Zaphod Beeblebrox's planet yesterday afternoon, I did'll be expecteding him to invite us inside for tea, which I'm so looking foreback to not having had tea in such a very long time, save for yesterday's aforementioned tea which of course I did have only yesterday but haven't yet had, so I only did'll haved it, which would be astonishingly like never having had it at all if not for Zaphod having lorded it over me all day today about how much I did'll drink and how horrendous it was'll be when I did'll accidentally spill the entire pot all over the floor like some complete and utter numpty.

This TVTropes page has a list of where this has been dealt with in various media, but as far as I can tell, none of them are a serious attempt at laying out the rules.

Regarding "if I were to have played football" and "if I had played football," the difference in subjunctive mood (ignoring tense for now) can be likened to that between "if I played," where "played" represents the past imperfect subjunctive mood, and "if I were to play," where "were" represents the past imperfect subjunctive mood, which difference in mood (again, setting tense aside) is none. Remember, in English, saying "present" and "past" in relation to a subjunctive mood has no particular connection in meaning with present and past time. Terms vary, but what is often called the present subjunctive simply refers to the subjunctive, and the the past subjunctive may be treated just as an alternative irrealis.

Let's talk about tense now. Now that we've surmised no difference in their subjunctive moods, let's look at their respective tenses as the difference between "have played" and "had played" isn't rooted in the hypothetical but in what tense these verbs otherwise express. The former being present perfect and the latter, pluperfect, their nuance is the same as that between present perfect and pluperfect, which is that present perfect speaks to present and/or past and pluperfect is strictly speaking to a past that is further into the past than another past, which point becomes less significant as, due to their subjunctive element, both require a subsequent clause that uses the conditional that is automatically later than what is described in the subjunctive's preceding subordinate clause and due to "would" being used for the conditional in all tenses. In a nutshell, the only difference is "have played" has the possibility of referring to the present in its subsequent "would" clause, while the "would" clause after "had played" can only refer to the past, albeit a past further forward than the condition that predicated it. As such, unless "have played" is actually followed by a clause that speaks to a present consequence rather than a past consequence of the irrealis, then all of the possible differences it may have had with "had played" essentially evaporate to make them synonymous.


Apparently Portuguese is one of the few languages to have a Future Subjunctive. This is what it would look like in Portuguese using the Future Perfect Subjunctive.

Future Indicative:

You will change your ways = Tu mudarás a tua atitude. (loose translation)

Future Subjunctive:

If you change your ways... = Se tu mudares tua atitude...

Future Perfect Subjunctive:

After you have changed your ways [at some point in the future] = Depois que tu tiveres mudado a tua atitude...

The whole paragraph:

Sou o fantasma do Natal Futuro Composto do Subjuntivo! Mostrar-te-ei o que teria acontecido se não tivesses mudado a tua atitude.

In order to use the Future Perfect Subjunctive, I would change it to:

Mostrar-te-ei o que acontecerá se não tiveres mudado a tua atitude.

(I will show you what will happen [in the future] if you haven't changed your ways [at some earlier point in the future])


Going to your example of "If I had played football", this is spoken from the perspective of someone looking to the past, contemplating what would have happened had they played football last week (say, they might have broken their leg).The second sentence, "If I were to have played football" is more of someone looking into their future after they already had played football and observing the consequences of that. So basically, in the first the opportunity to play football has passed, whereas in the next the opportunity is yet to come. Similarily, for your "Ghost of Christmas Future Perfect Subjunctive", the ghost is telling Scrooge what will happen if, in the future, he doesn't change, whereas in your comparative sentence the ghost is speaking as if Scrooge's ways are already changed.


I will show you what would have happened were you not to have changed your ways

I would just break the sentence down.

I will show you = future present first person

what would have happened = speculative conditional (I think?)

Conditional Mood

were you not= subjunctive

to have changed your ways = this one is the tricky part! It is a future perfect tense I believe? Which by nature I think is incorrect in this sentence since the Future perfect indicates that something will happen at a specific time but the causality is not necessary and can be unknown.

Future perfect

I think the part "to have" can be changed to "had you not changed your ways" instead, that makes more sense. But when I think more about it this implies that the Ghost knows whether or not the man will change his ways. "Had you not" implies "He did", correct? And does the Ghost know already? The Ghost was made up in Scrooge's head and Scrooge himself had no idea whether or not he would have changed his ways. By the time Scrooge awakens he will have known whether or not he will have changed his ways however. The sentence, in my opinion, is somewhat "breaking the 4th wall" which happens in filmmaking a lot. It's like the sentence is 'self-aware' of what will have happened although in context the subject doesn't know what would have happened.

I would assume that what makes this a "future perfect subjunctive" sentence is just adding the conditional aspect to it since the other aspects (future and subjunctive) are there.

If I had played football


If I were to have played football

The first seems to me like you don't know what would have happened if you played football. The latter suggests to me that you know what were to have happened. So they are both correct and have different meanings.

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