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  1. I´ve spent a fortune on swimming lessons. Next month I will have been training for three years and I don´t think I _______________(can) dive successfully when I go to Mexico this summer.

  2. If I thought that somebody was in my house, I would call the police and I _________ (not confront) the intruder.

What tenses should be used in the blank spaces above? I know conditionals and future perfect pretty well but I always have a problem when there are more than two verbs in a sentence. So my question is what tense should be used in any conditional or a future perfect sentence when there are more than two verbs just as in the examples above?

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  • Those two sentences are very different. 2) is would. As for 1), the entire thing seem slightly odd. "But"sounds better to my ear there. In which case, you can say: But I don't think I can dive successfully when I go to Mexico etc.
    – Lambie
    Apr 17 '18 at 14:13
  • Let's get one thing straight: that second sentence should read, "If I thought somebody were in my house, I would call the police and..."
    – Billy
    Jul 17 '18 at 0:13
  • @Billy Professors Huddleston and Pullum say that 'was' is an accepted alternative here (ie the preterite in place of the subjunctive), certainly in all but the most formal contexts. 'Let's get one thing straight'? Aug 11 '19 at 14:16
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The number of verbs in a sentence is irrelevant. You simply need to decide for each verb which 'tense' conveys your intended meaning. This tense may or may not be the same as the tense used for the previous verb.

In sentence 2 the verb construction is the same (would [not] + infinitive) because you are saying what you would and would not do if you thought there was an intruder in your house.

In sentence 1 you start with the future perfect continuous to express how long your training will have lasted by the start of next month. You then go on to say what you nevertheless do not think you will be able to do at that point in time: I don't think I will be able to dive (simple future). The tense of the previous verb is irrelevant.

As Lewis points out in The English Verb: An Exploration of Structure and Meaning (p148):

It is the verb phrase not the sentence which is the fundamental unit requiring analysis.

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On sentence 1, you are using the singular future perfect verb "will have been". You should therefore continue with that in the second half and use something like "will be (able to)".

On sentence 2, you use the past tense in the first clause, but then switch to a present tense, and so it sounds a bit funky. Depending upon the context, you could switch to present tense in the first clause, or continue with past tense in the second. Using present tense, "If I thought" could change to "If I think" and there would be no use for anything in the blank in the second clause. You could then remove the parentheses around "not confront". If, however, you change the second clause to past tense, then the verb in the second clause should be "would not have confronted".

My suggestions for tense are:

I´ve spent a fortune on swimming lessons. Next month I will have been training for three years and I don´t think I will be able to dive successfully when I go to Mexico this summer.

If I think somebody is in my house, I would call the police and I would not confront the intruder.
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  • It's not a past tense. It's a conditional where were has been replaced by was (as nearly all native English speakers do from time to time). "If I think ... I would ..." is not the way conditional clauses work in standard English. Apr 17 '18 at 17:21

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