In older texts one finds this construction, which one may be tempted to call the past conditional second form (after the example of le conditionnel passé deuxième forme):

If you had lied to me, I had known.
(Si vous m’aviez menti, j’eusse su.)

The first form, as it were, would of course go like this:

If you had lied to me, I would have known.
(Si vous m’aviez menti, j’aurais su.)

Here is an example from The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, book 11 chapter 4:

And here I cannot omit expressing my gratitude to the kindness intended me by Mr Nash, who took me one day aside, and gave me advice, which if I had followed, I had been a happy woman.

There is also a construction that one might call the present conditional second form, which goes like:

If you were here, I were happy.

Here is an example from Crime and Punishment, chapter 6 (as translated by Constance Garnett):

Where is it I’ve read that someone condemned to death says or thinks, an hour before his death, that if he had to live on some high rock, on such a narrow ledge that he’d only room to stand, and the ocean, everlasting darkness, everlasting solitude, everlasting tempest around him, if he had to remain standing on a square yard of space all his life, a thousand years, eternity, it were better to live so than to die at once!


  1. What are the proper terms for the second forms as I have called them above? (By "proper" I just mean terms that grammarians and linguists might have already used, or terms that might facilitate a Web search.)

  2. When did the second forms peak in terms of time period, well-known authors or works?

  3. What would be standard (or indeed any) grammatical treatments (or treatments in historical linguistics) of the second form (i.e. books, essays or Web pages on the topic)?

Please don't feel you have to answer all three questions.

  • My guess is there's some form of "subjunctive" here. But to a large extent, English speakers don’t pay much attention to the subjunctive. I think it's not really very "natural" to English, being just something foisted on us by grammarians who cut their syntactic teeth on ancient Greek and Latin. Your Fielding example sounds completely unnatural to me today, so I wouldn't count on there being a meaningful technical term to reference it. – FumbleFingers Jul 12 '18 at 17:56
  • @FumbleFingers. Thanks, I added a reference to 'historical linguistics' in response to your thought. I know the form is unnatural today, but was it always? How did it develop, and vanish? What is its relation to the French counterpart or ich hätte es gewusst? There must be some treatment of these questions out there, at least someone's Ph.D thesis. – Catomic Jul 12 '18 at 18:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.