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The Past Real Conditional describes what you used to do in particular real-life situations. It suggests that your habits have changed and you do not usually do these things today.

E.g.:

  • If I went out with my friends, I usually spent the whole night out. I can’t do that anymore.

  • When I had time off, I always travelled. Now I’m too busy.

  • When he was younger, he walked everywhere. Now he uses his car.

  • I had more time for my hobbies when I was younger.

Check this sentence If I went out with my friends, I usually spent the whole night out. I can’t do that anymore.

What does it mean by saying "I can’t do that anymore." (what does "that" refer to?)

Does it mean:

A: Currently, I don't go out with my friends. ("do that" ="go out with my friends")

or

B: Currently, I do go out with my friends, but don't spend the whole night out. ("do that" ="spend the whole night out")


What about this sentence: "When I had time off, I always travelled. Now I’m too busy."?
This sentence is clear in that now I don't have time and thus I don't travel It does not mean: Now I have time but I don't travel even I have the free time.

Here is my thinking, but I am not sure I am right. They said: "This habit did exist in the past but does not exist now", then there is a good chance that the action in the conditional sentence (not the action in the main clause) did exist in the past but does not exist now. So ...

  • "If I went out with my friends, I usually spent the whole night out."
    means now I don't go out with my friends any more.

  • "When I had time off, I always travelled."
    means now, I don't have time off any more

I DO NOT think

  • "If I went out with my friends, I usually spent the whole night out."
    means now, I still go out with my friends but I don't spend the whole night out any more.

  • "When I had time off, I always travelled."
    means now, I still have time off but I don't travel any more

Because if that is the case, then they would become unreal and we would say

  • "If I went out with my friends, I would spend the whole night out."

and

  • "If I had time off, I would travel."

A man in this post said:

For the sentence "when I went to his house, I used to take a bottle of wine.", we could understand it as "Perhaps he moved away, you quit being friends, or he died. Your original sounded more like you quit taking wine on visits. But, either meaning could be used with either form. Context would determine what had changed."

He also said:

If I went to a friend's house for dinner, I used to take a bottle of wine or some flowers.

It's likely you still go to friends' houses for dinner, but you no longer take wine or flowers. (Perhaps you are now in financially strained circumstances and can no longer afford the gifts.)

If I went to a friend's house for dinner, I took a bottle of wine or some flowers.

It's likely you have stopped or reduced going to friends houses. (Perhaps you have moved to a new location and know few people here/your social life is less active.)

Again, these are connotations, not denotations: it is what I-the-reader feels when reading the stand-alone sentence without anything else to tell me what is happening. In a conversation, the context, the background, the other sentences before and after could make either sentence work in either situation.

  • Just because something is unreal now, it doesn't mean that it was unreal in the past. – Peter Shor May 5 '17 at 11:07
  • @PeterShor, ok, so the sentence "If I went out with my friends, I usually spent the whole night out." is ambiguous because the sentence is made of 2 clauses. And if that habit changed, then It could be either "I do not go out with my friends any more" or "I do still go out with my friend, but do not spend the whole night out with him" – Tom May 5 '17 at 11:14
  • What that website is saying is that when you use the "past real conditional", you are implying that the action in the main clause does not happen today. He still has time off, but he's too busy to travel. (Presumably, busy at home and not at work. Maybe he has children.) – Peter Shor May 5 '17 at 11:20
  • @PeterShor, (forum.thefreedictionary.com/…) this guy said for the sentence "when I went to his house, I used to take a bottle of wine."--> Perhaps he moved away, you quit being friends, or he died. Your original sounded more like you quit taking wine on visits. But, either meaning could be used with either form. Context would determine what had changed. – Tom May 5 '17 at 15:08
  • For any form it is possible to write a pronoun without well defined noun or case it references to. It is not the problem of grammatics, but of the style only. – Gangnus Oct 7 '17 at 22:40
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The first part of that sentence sketches a condition ("if..."), the second part the action. There is no reason to assume that "that" refers to both the condition and action. We do not know anything about the frequency of that condition. Moreover, if it did refer to the whole sentence, then there was no reason to make a condition in the first place; one would simply write: I usually went out with my friends. I can't do that anymore.

  • How can you explain this sentence "When I had time off, I always travelled. Now I’m too busy."? = "Now I don't have time off", so it could refer to the action in the conditional clause (if-clause) – Tom May 5 '17 at 9:23
  • You are too young yet, and free, too, aren't you? He is lamenting that he cannot be out the whole night, obviously! :-) – Gangnus Oct 7 '17 at 22:36
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I think for 'habitual incident' in the past, it is better to use 'would' or 'used to'. For example, I would rephrase your first sentence as the following: "If I would go out with my friends, I usually used to spend the whole night out. I can’t do that anymore."

To answer your question, I think 'B' is more correct as 'that' is closer to 'spend the whole night out'.

  • How can you explain this sentence "When I had time off, I always travelled. Now I’m too busy."? = "Now I don't have time off", so it could refer to the action in the conditional clause (if-clause) – Tom May 5 '17 at 9:30
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    While lots of Americans put the extra would in "If I would go out with my friends, it's not standard English, it sounds grating to some of us who don't speak dialects that use it, and it's not something you should be recommending on this site. – Peter Shor May 5 '17 at 11:26
  • @Tom, I wouldn't say that like this. I would rather say "When I had time off, I always used to travell. Now I’m too busy." – sumion May 18 '17 at 9:03

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