If every black adult male in the U.S. bought & registered a semi-automatic rifle tomorrow, Congress would Pass gun control laws by Friday.

Eric Benét‏ on Twitter

Should not the "bought & registered" should be in their base form (buy & register)? If not then what type of sentence it is? Passive Sentence? If yes then what would be the active form of this sentence?

  • I don't believe that answers this question. "For future hypotheticals we use the simple present" -- except we don't, as indicated in the quote in this question. Even if we were to use an explicit "subjunctive" form, it would be "If every man were to buy and register..."
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 7, 2017 at 10:30
  • @Andrew Leach I was trying to give a precursor both answering this and pointing out the lack of consensus about the correctness of articles on 'conditionals'. tchrist's link certainly does the latter; this Wikipedia article (with discussion of tenses / constructions used) does the former; doubtless, there are duplicates on ELU. From Wikipedia: << Counterfactual conditional: In a counterfactual or speculative conditional sentence, a situation is ... Oct 7, 2017 at 10:58
  • described as dependent on a condition that is known to be false, or presented as unlikely. The time frame of the hypothetical situation may be past, present or future, and the time frame of the condition does not always correspond to that of the consequence. For example: ..... If I were king, I could have you thrown in the dungeon. // If I won the lottery, I would buy a car. // If he said that to me, I would run away. // If you had called me, I would have come. // If you had done your job properly, we wouldn't be in this mess now. >> Oct 7, 2017 at 10:58
  • "Bought & registered a semi-automatic rifle tomorrow" is a past-tense VP functioning as predicate to the subject "every black adult male in the U.S". The clause is finite, so it requires a finite VP, not an infinitival one with the plain-form verbs "buy" and "register". The meanings of the past tense verbs "bought" and "registered" have nothing to with past time, but to do with modality, and hence the verbs can be called modal preterites. In your example, the if PP can be classed as a remote conditional, one that is presented as a remote possibility as opposed to an open one.
    – BillJ
    Oct 7, 2017 at 11:52
  • Shortly, No. If every black adult male in the U.S. bought & registered a semi-automatic rifle tomorrow, Congress would Pass gun control laws by Friday might be true and it's certainly grammatical. Could you explain why that's not clear, or should everyone else do all the work for you? Oct 8, 2017 at 17:55

1 Answer 1


The verb in the first clause is in the simple past tense. This verb form in conditional sentences is also called the modal preterite by the Huddlestone and Pullum in A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. There is no past participle in the sentence, nor any use of the passive.

A construction, as in the present case, that uses the simple past / modal preterite in the if-clause (protasis) and the would + infinitive in the main clause (apodosis) is commonly called the Conditional 2 or Second Conditional in English language teaching.

One of the uses of the second conditional is to speculate on the consequences of an unlikely future action. In this case it is highly improbable that every black adult male is going to buy and register a semi-automatic rifle tomorrow. But should they do so, then Congress would pass gun control laws.

This contrasts with the equivalent Conditional 1 version of the sentence:

If every black adult male in the U.S. buys & registers a semi-automatic rifle tomorrow, Congress will pass gun control laws by Friday.

This is also a speculation or prediction about the future. But it is neutral or open to the possibility of this happening.

A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (p47) offers the following distinction between what are in ELT called the Conditionals 1 and 2:

The open type (i.e. Conditional 1) characteristically leaves it open as to whether the condition is or will be fulfilled.

The remote type (i.e. Conditional 2), by contrast, presents the fulfilment of the condition as a more remote possibility.

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