in Michael Swan's "Practical English Usage" he states in entry 580.6 ("past instead of would ..."): "would, like will, is avoided in subordinate clauses; instead, we generally use past verbs". He also gives the following example:

-Would you follow me wherever I went?

However, if I wanted to refer to an unreal past situation in a subordinate clause (and by that, I mean not only an if-clause), would it be correct to use a past perfect form. For example, if I modified Michael Swan's example so that it refers to an unreal past situation, would this sentence be correct?

-Would you have followed me wherever I had gone?

My point is, Michel Swan just talks about using past verbs instead of would in subordinate clauses, but he doesn't mention anything about using past perfect forms instead of "would have".

I really appreciate every answer. Thank you in advance

  • Of course. It implies that you and your interlocutor had been discussing something that had occurred prior to the past conditional tense. I would have finished the speech, if he had given me the chance.
    – Lambie
    Jan 28, 2017 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


I wanted this to be a comment rather than an answer, but it is too long!

Tense simplification in English is an exemplification of the abhorrence of redundancy that Anglo-Saxon pragmatism results in in all matters, linguistic or otherwise!

A year after he had been laid off, he was still unemployed.

The fact that the action in the subordinate clause happened earlier than the one in the main clause is shown by two markers – the conjunction 'after' and the 'perfect' verb form 'had been laid off' – where only one would do: the 'perfect' is – and can be made – redundant!

A year after he was laid off, he was still unemployed.

Similarly, the fact that both actions have the same subject – 'he' – makes the one in the subordinate clause redundant, provided the verb is put in a non-finite form.

A year after having been laid off, he was still unemployed.

But again, the gerund need not be in the 'perfect' since 'after' does the job of showing which action came before the other. So, eventually, when simplified to the maximum, the sentence becomes:

A year after being laid off, he was still unemployed.

Right or wrong do not apply… as long as the shareholders are satisfied!

  • exemplification of the abhorrence of redundancy But what about prolixity?
    – deadrat
    Jan 29, 2017 at 5:46
  • @deadrat: 'example of the hatred for superfluity' (same number of words, none of which could be dispensed with)… I do not see any 'prolixity' in it… you must have meant 'grandiloquence'
    – user58319
    Jan 29, 2017 at 23:08
  • I stand chastened and informed by your reparative emendation.
    – deadrat
    Jan 30, 2017 at 0:16

It’s not “wrong”, but neither is it especially necessary. Native speakers feel no compelling urge to exactly match or “balance” complex verb constructions in both halves of sentences like this. As a general rule, we for the most part avoid the more complex constructions.

In these following sets of pairs between past and past perfect, only your own past perfect in this first couplet seems like something a person might be all that likely to say:

  • Would you have followed me wherever I went?

  • Would you have followed me wherever I had gone?

In contrast, here in these two pairs using a past perfect construction seems much too “heavy”, and the regular unparticipled past would normally be preferred in

  • Would you have done whatever I said?
  • Would you have done whatever I had said?

And in

  • I would have done whatever you wanted.
  • I would have done whatever you had wanted.

Native speakers regularly use the plain past and the less-plain past perfect far more interchangeably than simple guidelines presented to non-native speakers learning English as an L2 language might lead them to believe. At times, the heavier construction is even actively avoided, as I adjudge that it would be in the pairs I’ve given above.

  • 1
    All grammar considerations regarding tense aside, using one or the other can convey meaning in specific situations. I do not consider using a pp after a past conditional as a heavy construction per se. If a couple broke up in 2005, now it is 2016, and they are discussing the issues that existed for them prior to 2005, it would be very normal to use "had wanted or had said" to refer to the period when they were still married. That said, there are many cases where it would make no difference.
    – Lambie
    Jan 28, 2017 at 20:12

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