0

If we would like to express a conditional statement about a present fact

as in "Can you go outside today? - I don't know yet, I need my parents' approval first"

Are these sentences correct?

  1. If James asked his friend if she could go outside, she would tell him she needs her parents' approval first.

  2. If James asked his friend if she can go outside, she would tell him she needs her parents' approval first.

  3. If James asked his friend if she could go outside, she would tell him she needed her parents' approval first.

1: It sounds ok.

2: To me it is acceptable (no backshifting). However it may sound more like a general statement rather than a one-off invitation.

3: Now it's the tricky one. Couldn't it be interpreted for example as a related past event?

"If James asked his friend if she could go outside when she was 13, she would tell him that back in the day she needed her parents' approval first."


Reported speech usually triggers a backshifting when the introductory clause is in the past. Using the same examples as in the beginning:

John asked if she could go outside today.

She told him she didn't know yet and that she needed her parents' approval first.

What if the introductory clause is a conditional sentence?

(If he liked her) John would ask if she can go outside today

vs

(if he liked her) John would ask if she could go outside today

  • In this case using the third conditional changes the sense slightly as we now talk about a "lost opportunity" (James didn't ask anything). – Franks Sep 5 '16 at 22:41
  • How do you interpret your third sentence @Franks? – Dan Sep 6 '16 at 0:11
  • 1
    As you explained in your answer there is some ambiguity. It can be interpreted differently depending on which words are added (1 vs 2 for instance). I understand my third sentence as your sentence 1 in most cases but my point was to ask if it could mean something different, which you showed with your answer 2. – Franks Sep 6 '16 at 8:18
0

Your third sentence

If James asked his friend if she could go outside, she would tell him she needed her parents' approval first.

is full of unspecified and therefore ambiguous options -

  1. If James asked his friend now if she could go outside now, she would tell him now that she needed her parents' approval first.

  2. If James asked his friend last week if she could go outside now, she would have told him then that she needed her parents' approval first.

  3. If James asked his friend last week if she could go outside last week, she would have told him last week that she needed her parents' approval first.

  4. If James asked his friend now if she could go outside last week, she would tell him now that she had needed her parents' approval first.

Ambiguity is easy. The goal is clarity.

  • Actually I simply wanted to know whether my 3rd sentence (without the precisions added below) meant that she has to ask her parents to be able to go outside NOW (vs in the Past) – Franks Sep 5 '16 at 23:04
  • I guess I'm saying it can, but that it can also mean other things too. – Dan Sep 6 '16 at 0:18
  • Could we also say 2. "If James had asked his friend last week if she could go outside now, she would have told him then that she needed her parents' approval first." and 4. "If James asked his friend now if she could have gone/had been able to go outside last week, she would tell him now that she had needed her parents' approval first. – Franks Sep 6 '16 at 8:23
  • Yes! And your comment versions are less ambiguous than the versions in my answer. – Dan Sep 6 '16 at 12:09
  • Now slightly different but related. – Franks Sep 6 '16 at 15:32
-1

It's hard for me to see your questions exactly the way you do, so I'll just respond to each example sentence and tell you that it works, or how to rewrite it.

  1. If James asked his friend if she could go outside, she would tell him she needs her parents' approval first.

It's okay. "She needs" is the tiniest bit weird but I can make it work by imagining that she always, in general needs her parents' approval first.

  1. If James asked his friend if she could go outside, she would tell him she needed her parents' approval first.

Very nice. This is the classic.

Let's back this up one step:

If James asks his friend if she can go outside, she will tell him she needs her parents' approval first.

Do you see that to go from this to your sentence #1, all you have to do is put each of the verbs into the past tense? (ask -> asked, can -> could, will -> would, need -> needed)

  1. If James asked his friend if she can go outside, she would tell him she needs her parents' approval first.

It's okay, but I would prefer the construction that was given in one of the comments for the original question:

If James were to ask his friend if she can go outside, she would tell him she needs her parents' approval first.

Or:

If James were to ask his friend if she could go outside, she would tell him she needed her parents' approval first.

  1. If James asked his friend if she could go outside, she would tell him she needed her parents' approval first.

This sentence is no good, but the following works:

If James had asked his friend if she could go outside, she would have told him she needed her parents' approval first.

If James asked his friend if she could go to Las Vegas when she was 13, she would tell him that back in the day she needed her parents' approval first.

Hmm. Not ideal. The following would work better -- I hope it expresses your idea:

If James asked his friend if she could have gone to Las Vegas back when she was 13, she would tell him that at that age she would have needed her parents' approval first.

She told him she didn't know yet and that she needed her parents' approval first.

Okay.

If he liked her, John would ask if she can go outside today.

Sorry, no good.

If he liked her, John would ask if she could go outside today.

Okay, but here's a better sentence:

If he liked the girl, John would ask her if she would go to the movies with him.


Now here's something interesting (and hopefully helpful for you):

John asks if she wants to go to the movies.

Let's imagine that he asked her that every time he saw her and she always said no. (Maybe he's a little Asperger and is slow to get the message.)

Every time he saw her, John would ask if she wanted to go to the movies with him.

Do you see? The conditional is really easy if you just put all verbs into the past tense.

  • Thank you! However isn't there an issue with your first sentence number 2 and the 3rd? They are the same – Franks Sep 5 '16 at 23:06
  • "If James asked his friend if she could have gone to Las Vegas back when she was 13, she would tell him that at that age she would have needed her parents' approval first." Why not also "If James asked his friend if she could have gone to Las Vegas back when she was 13, she would tell him that at that age she had needed her parents' approval first." – Franks Sep 5 '16 at 23:16
  • Sorry, I've gotten a bit lost. Can you edit my answer and mark the two sentences you are asking about with something like OOO? – aparente001 Sep 6 '16 at 0:24
  • I will rewrite the sentence in your comment slightly: If James asked his friend if she could have gone to Las Vegas back when she was 13, she would tell him that at that age she would have needed her parents' approval first. By the way, is all this effort really helping you understand the conditional better? – aparente001 Sep 6 '16 at 0:25
  • Your sentences are useful in a way. But my question could be narrowed down to the necessity of back-shifting simple past to past perfect : "I wanted to see you" He said he had wanted to see you to follow grammar rules. But He said he wanted to see you yesterday is also working (I think) without having to use the past perfect. I think that's why in Dan's sentence 4 he used a simple past for "could" as the "last week" makes it clear without using the past perfect. – Franks Sep 6 '16 at 8:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.