Is this sentence correct:

He was mumbling incoherently. If you understood Sanskrit I understood what he said.

Or should it be:

He was mumbling incoherently. If you understand Sanskrit I understood what he said.

Or are they both correct.


I should clarify the context because this can be understood in different ways. The example is about person A narrating a past event to person B. The narrator A is trying to accentuate and emphasize the fact the he understood absolutely nothing of what the person in the past story was saying. So the desired meaning is: Just like S1 is utterly wrong, thus is S2: Just like you understand absolutely no Sanskrit, I also did not understand what the person in the story was saying. Of course there's no logical link between S1 and S2 like in normal conditionals, so S1 is not a condition for S2 in any way.

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    Are you trying to create a rhetorical effect along the lines of “if you understood that, then I’m from Mars” (i.e., “if you’re going to claim that you understood what he said, then I’m going to claim that you’re a liar”)? As it stands, your second sentence makes no sense. Person A’s ability to understand Sanskrit cannot in any fathomable way be related to whether or not Person B understands Person C who mumbles. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 13 '18 at 11:57
  • it's unclear what are you asking. why do I care as a listener if I speak Sanskrit or not? and why would that affect your understanding? – David Haim Jan 13 '18 at 12:39
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: Thx, I have added an edit to clarify the context. – BazAU Jan 13 '18 at 12:50
  • You would not use any kind of conditional for that context at all. You might make a comparison along the lines of “He was mumbling so incoherently I understood him about as well as you understand Sanskrit”, but I can think of no natural way to use an “if… then…” construction to express this. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 13 '18 at 12:53
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    No, I cannot imagine anyone ever saying anything like that. Absolute denial using conditional constructions like that are always the other way around, with the absurd notion being applied to oneself and the realistic notion that you’re denying being applied to the addressee. The absurd notion is also usually expressed as your own being something rather than having done something: “If you’ve seen him [realistic notion being denied, applied to addressee], then I’m an angel [absurd notion applied to yourself]”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 13 '18 at 13:05

Neither are correct. The first bit 'He was mumbling incoherently' is ok. The second bit doesn't make sense. It could be 'I understand Sanskrit, so I could understand what he said'. That is, if you mean to simply say you could understand it.

The construction of your sentence suggests that you perhaps you wanted to use a conditional phrase for example 'If you had understood Sanskrit, then you would have understood what he said.'

Or, 'if you had understood Sanskrit, like me, then you might* have understood what he had said'. Meaning - I could understand, but you could not'.

*I put 'might' - because of the incoherence. You might understand if you can a. Hear him clearly and b. Speak Sanskrit.

Though, if he is 'mumbling incoherently' then it seems a bit odd that you could know what he was saying at all! In which case 'mumbling almost incoherently' might be better. The 'almost' means you could just about make out what he was saying.

More clarity is needed on what you are trying to say here, as your second sentence is unclear and does not make sense at the moment!

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  • Neither is correct. Both are incorrect. – tchrist Jan 13 '18 at 15:20
  • When I said 'second sentence' I was referring to the second part of each example, both of which are incorrect, as I already said. – Jelila Jan 13 '18 at 15:47

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