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I was wondering if any native speaker uses the following type of conditional sentence:

If my mother-in-law was coming tomorrow, I would have spent all day cleaning the house.

The sentence appears in Conditionals: A Comprehensive Empirical Analysis, by Renaat Declerck, Susan Reed (2001). The book says the sentence is counterfactual.

([Link to sentence in book] (https://books.google.com/books?id=RtyewWWe1LAC&pg=PA44&lpg=PA44&dq="If+my+mother-in-law+was+coming++tomorrow,+I+would+have+spent+all+day+cleaning+the+house"))

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    As opposed to....what? Are you asking about the simple past tense in the "if" clause? Careful writers might prefer the plural form were in place of was. I believe that this type of conditional is very common among British English speakers. Are you troubled about the tense used in the second half of the sentence? What exactly is bothering you? – Mari-Lou A Jan 31 '16 at 9:27
  • I am not comfortable with that. For a future proposition/possibility, I would write/say, If my m-i-l came tomorrow, I would spend all day cleaning the house. Alternatively, floating the predicate into retrospective past: If my m-i-l were coming the next day, I would have spent all day cleaning the house. – Blessed Geek Jan 31 '16 at 9:37
  • I'm really confused about using the past continuous with the adverb "tomorrow" in the first part and the combination"would have spent" in the second part. Isn't it odd? – mido mido Jan 31 '16 at 10:25
  • @mido mido No, it's wrong; the conditional if - clause is referring to a future event (her arrival tomorrow), and hence is inconsistent with the use of would+ present perfect which has a past time meaning. Better to say If my mother-in-law was coming tomorrow, I would spend all day cleaning the house . Alternatively, if you want to retain a past time meaning throughout, you could say If I had known my mother-in-law was coming tomorrow, I would have spent all day cleaning the house. – BillJ Jan 31 '16 at 10:30
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    @BillJ Isn't would spend all day innapropriate if you're talking at 11 pm? – Jacinto Jan 31 '16 at 13:04
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If my mother-in-law was coming tomorrow, I would have spent all day cleaning the house.

This sentence is actually grammatical, but very specifically conveys as a matter of fact that if your mother-in-law had decided to come tomorrow, then you would have spent all day cleaning the house. But you did not, because she had not decided to come tomorrow. This is an instance of the common usage of the past continuous tense for a past decision to do something (which may be in the future), but non-native speakers are very often unaware of it. Another example is "If he was coming tomorrow, he would have told us.", and changing "was coming" to "is coming" would make it sound weird to a native speaker!

If my mother-in-law were coming tomorrow, I would have spent all day cleaning the house.

This is also valid with pretty much the same meaning, but less commonly used even by native speakers today. Both of these are indeed counterfactual, because the "would have spent" implies that you actually did not spend all day cleaning the house.

If my mother-in-law is coming tomorrow, I would spend all day cleaning the house.

This has a different meaning, and merely states how you would respond to a hypothetical situation and does not state whether or not the situation will happen. Note that the present tense of "is coming" is never used for the counterfactual, so it would be incorrect to replace "would spend" with "would have spent".

  • @Clare: In the universe with human mistakes. I hope it is obvious that it was a slip, not that I don't know proper grammar. I also don't understand how I made the error, which I will of course fix now. – user21820 May 21 '17 at 16:29
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    +1 An example of how the original sentence might be used: "Your in-laws are arriving tomorrow morning, and you spent the day at the beach!? If my mother-in-law was coming tomorrow, I would have spent all day cleaning the house!" – 1006a May 21 '17 at 16:50
  • It actually is not grammatical: If my MIL was coming, I would be spending all day cleaning. I rarely hear an IF clause in the past continuous followed by a second clause in the past conditional. For example: If he were leaving tomorrow, I would have gone already.* That's another one and it makes zero sense. Of all the non-standard patterns one hears, this is simply not one of them. – Lambie May 21 '17 at 19:27
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    @Lambie: I am a native speaker and your notion of "standard English" is simply not congruent with my native tongue. The 'tense' of the two parts are not tied together but depends on the specific semantics desired for each part. Twice now you have avoided addressing the example I have given you: "If he was coming tomorrow, he would have told us by now." There is no other correct choice of tenses to convey this particular meaning. – user21820 May 23 '17 at 8:19
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    @Lambie: I'm inclined towards descriptivism. Since you agree that people do say the kind of sentence that I've given, then it is clearly grammatical to them. Now, one could ask whether it is a minority who do this. I do not believe so, and a quick Google search lends some (weak) evidence to my claim. For instance, you insisted that if the apodosis has "X would have done Y" then the protasis must be "if P had been Q" rather than "if P was Q". That is totally wrong when the past tense is used to convey intention rather than temporal semantics, as I have explained in my answer. [continued] – user21820 May 23 '17 at 15:17
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As a native speaker, I generally use a version of the subjunctive mood for this.

If my mother in law were coming tomorrow, I would have spent all day cleaning the house.

This isn't a conscious decision, but I suppose that I have chosen this construction because the mother-in-law's visit is not factual, but hypothetical. When discussing hypothetical situations, and one's response or differing experience in response to that situation, I generally use the subjunctive.

It is also worth noting that there is only one verb with a specific past-subjunctive form: be is the present form, which becomes were.

This may not be a very standard usage of this mood, but you asked about native speakers, so descriptivism is all we can offer.

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A counterfactual sentence is a condition contrary to fact: Here's the actual "standard" grammar:

1) If I go, I will see him. Present (either form) + Future with Will OR If I am going, I will see him.

2) If I went, I would see him. Simple Past Tense + Present Conditional HERE's the KICKER:

3) If I had gone, I would have seen him. Pluperfect + Past Conditional

The difference between 1) and 2) is how much you want to emphasize the probability. 1) is just an IF statement. 2) is a contrafactual.

Now, your sentence: /If my mother-in-law was coming tomorrow, I would have spent all day cleaning the house./ is agrammatical in English.

It should be:If my mother-in-law was [or were] coming tomorrow, I would spend all day cleaning the house. That makes it a type 1) sentence. To make it type 2): If my mother-in-law had been coming yesterday,I would have spent all day cleaning the house.

  • Show your face, downvoter. My answer is a 100% standard take on this issue. – Lambie May 21 '17 at 15:21
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    First, the question is not whether the sentence is "standard grammar". Next, there are many more types of conditionals than three. Third, the sentence seemed fine to my intuition. Fourth, the sentence comes straight out of a study of the English conditional which is based on actual corpora, and the text is "data-driven" (authors' words). I believe that's called descriptive grammar. Trying to judge every actual conditional utterance into some kind of artificial schema that includes a very small number of "standard constructions" does not seem to me to be the way to go here. – Arm the good guys in America May 21 '17 at 16:16
  • All this stuff about corpora is mostly nonsense since, strictly speaking, corpora refers to written text. Data-driven, my foot. Descriptive grammar does deal with how people speak so the "corpora" has to come from recorded media. The sentence is not even a good non-standard sentence where the tendency is: would/would have. And not: was + ing/would have PP. The sentence is therefore untenable as it makes no sense. The question was about NATIVE speakers. And the typical native speaker heard in the media etc. tends toward WOULD/WOULD HAVE. for contrefactuals. – Lambie May 21 '17 at 19:21
  • And for the second clause If she was coming tomorrow, I would be spending all day cleaning. Not: would have spent. – Lambie May 21 '17 at 19:22
  • Oh, and by the way, I put the word standard in quotation marks. One has to be able to work off of or in relation to something. – Lambie May 21 '17 at 19:30

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