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This is the original phrase: "I am very anxious to see the new apparatus anyway even if I do not see it fly." (text written in 1905)

Can I transform it like this:

In 1905, he was very anxious to see the new apparatus anyway even if he did not see it fly(ing).

I am unsure about the right tense that must follow "even if" to keep the exact meaning of the original.

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  • I agree with the suggestion to replace the word "anyway" with a comma. I would say "even if he could not see it fly" or "even if he would not see it fly", because I interpret the direct speech, "even if I do not see it fly," as meaning "even if I cannot see it fly" or "even if I will not [have the opportunity to] see it fly".
    – Scott
    Aug 23 '16 at 4:35
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It seems to me that at time of speaking, he didn't know whether he might actually see it fly later. If he'd been sure he wouldn't, he'd have said ...even if I won't / will not see it fly). So I'd go for...

In 1905, he was very anxious to see the new apparatus anyway even if he might not see it fly

(But on purely stylistic grounds, I'd probably change if to though.)

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In 1905, you have someone saying in direct quotation in the present tense that he is anxious to see an airplane* and that anxiety is not contingent (again in the present tense) on seeing it in flight. The present tense in do not see is an enduring present. It means that he'd really like to see the airplane on the ground even if subsequent to the observation and thereon into the future he never sees it take off.

When you transpose the whole thing to a past report, the observer was anxious (simple past), but the simple past of did not see covers any time in the past, including the time before the anxiety took hold. This leaves the slightly uncomfortable implication that the airplane might have been airborne and visible to our observer before he became anxious to see it, but he just wasn't observant enough to have noticed it.

Perhaps:

In 1905, he was very anxious to see the new apparatus anyway even if he was not to see it fly.

(The fly here is the bare infinitive [to] fly. Exchanging it for the participle flying won't matter since both are non-finite verbs, which do not carry tense.)

*OK, I'm assuming the "apparatus" is not a dirigible.

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  • I will give more details: In 1904, the observant had already witnessed an airplane flying, according to a claim he made at the end of 1904. In 1905 he was anxious to see the new version of the plane as soon as possible, even staying on the ground. However, the observant expected to witness the new machine flying at a later time in 1905. Finally after a few years he really saw the apparatus flying. Aug 23 '16 at 6:34
  • Supposing you mean observer when you say observant, in 1905, he was anxious to see a new model on the ground even if never subsequently saw the plane in the air. Then present tense expresses this; the simple past, not quite because the simple past covers any past interval, not just the interval subsequent to seeing the plane on the ground.
    – deadrat
    Aug 23 '16 at 7:00
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    (1) Yes, observer not observant. (2) He finally saw the 1905 plane flying (after 1909). Does your "even if he was not to see it fly" imply automatically the observer never saw the 1905 plane flying? (3) I understand from you explanations that my version "even if he did not see it fly" is not good. I will not use it. Aug 23 '16 at 8:26
  • @RobertWerner Yes, “even if he was not to see it fly” means that he never saw it fly. FumbleFingers’ version below gets around that. Oct 22 '16 at 15:17

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