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Further to discussion regarding this ELL answer...

I [had] assumed I would go to Heaven when I die/died, but when I think about all the wicked things I've done, I'm now pretty sure I'll go to Hell [when I die].

My gut instinct is that, strictly speaking, "future present" die is "correct" above, and the only reason people might use died is by (incorrect?) association with the hypothetical (but now ruled out) past scenario (at some point before time of utterance, I did make that assumption, but I no longer do).

Can anyone either endorse or refute my preferred tense usage above, and/or give a more detailed explanation of what exactly is going on?

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[...]the only reason people might use died is by (incorrect?) association [...]

Not the only reason.

My gut instinct is that, strictly speaking, "future present" die is "correct" above, and the only reason people might use died is by (incorrect?) association with the hypothetical (but now ruled out) past scenario (at some point before time of utterance, I did make that assumption, but I no longer do).

In the title, you mention a "now discarded past." You may inform us you have discarded the past hypothesis, but it is still in play semantically because you have presented it for our consideration. The initial point of reference here is the moment when we all may learn the truth. One take on that would be some sliver of time after your death. So died is reasonable. That only shifts when you say "think". Thinking demands a shift to some time before death. But there's no need to recalibrate the original point of reference.

Died also gets the point across that dying has been completed. Interestingly, a search of "would go when I died" got about 30,000 hits, and "would go when I have died" got none, as did "would go when I had died".

I found a related discussion on Word Reference breaking-the-backshift-rule-for-indirect-speech ... Keith Bradford's answer there seems particularly on point. Borrowing one of his sentences, I think it supports my idea about the time point in the point of view that I expressed above. Two of his samples were these -

  1. We knew yesterday that John will call us when he arrives tomorrow.
  2. We knew yesterday that John would call us when he arrived tomorrow ? (... this seems awkward because it has knowledge conflicting with doubt.

I would add the following variations -

  1. We knew yesterday that John would call us tomorrow when he arrives.
  2. We knew yesterday that John would call us tomorrow when he arrived.

Five and six are acceptable to me, but not four. Five sounds like John is going to call from the airport. Six sounds like he's going to call from the hotel once he's settled in.

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  • I agree with everything here except that (a) I don't think shifting tomorrow significantly affects "acceptability" as regards #4 / #6, and (b) I don't think the arrives / arrived choice in #5 / #6 has any bearing on how soon after arrival John is expected to make the call. Mar 31 '18 at 15:40
  • @FumbleFingers That may be a feature of my dialect and not Standard English. In the Southern Appalachians, we have the option to promote the tense of many irregular verbs to convey different aspects.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 31 '18 at 16:36
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Granted…on its face. However, the word, when, connects the auxiliary verb (also) to the word, die (since die is posited as an antecedent to “go to heaven.”). If one would go to Heaven (as of some future time), then one would need have died as of some future, anticipatory time. So, since the “would go” future eventuality of admission to heaven would not yet have come to pass, then the likewise eventuality of having died would of necessity also not have come to pass. The contradiction, then, is that the word, died, inflects to the meaning of a death (a past event that already occurred) whereas the word, die, could consist in a present or future event but not a past event. Actually, you anticipated your own answer in the bracketed conclusion to your question, albeit you apparently did not intend as much.

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  • "So, since the “would go” future eventuality of admission to heaven would not yet have come to pass, then the likewise eventuality of having died would of necessity also not have come to pass." I think the normal idea is the opposite; and the default point of view is in fact located between dying, when we may learn the destiny, and going to heaven, the realization of the destiny.
    – Phil Sweet
    Mar 30 '18 at 1:54
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Simply put, the reason not to prefer died, is that the auxiiliary verb, would (die), cannot predicate a prior (a past "tense'ed") event.

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    I can't understand this answer. The auxiliary "would" in the quoted sentence is associated with the verb "go", not with the verb "die".
    – herisson
    Mar 27 '18 at 22:55
  • See next answer. Mar 29 '18 at 19:21

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