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I want to say "He'll do anything you ask him to" but in the past tense, as that was the case 10 years ago, but he's not like that anymore. Which of the following should I use?

  1. He would have done anything you would ask him to!
  2. He would have done anything you would have asked him to!
  3. He would have done anything you had asked him to!

Which is correct or otherwise preferable?

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    They're all way too "complicated". Just Simple Past will do fine - Back then, he would / he'd do anything you asked [him to]. – FumbleFingers Aug 13 '18 at 12:41
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    Yeah I was about to say. "He would have done had would have asked have had him do anything you have had would have done would have". Like, who even talks like that. Who even writes like that. Nobody, ever, that's who. He'd do anything you asked, but even he would never write like that. – RegDwigнt Aug 13 '18 at 12:45
  • From FumbleFingers answer, I've realized your question might be a bit ambiguous. FF's answer is the right one, if that's the meaning you're looking for. Your answer 3 is also correct, but functions like a past conditional. It's implicit that you didn't ask him to do something. Perhaps it's too late now: it's a pity, because he would have done anything you had asked him. – S Conroy Aug 13 '18 at 13:11
  • FumbleFingers' answer is only clear if you keep the "back then". Say you only said "He would do anything you asked him to" can also means he would now do it. "If you asked me help you, I would do it." This doesn't necessarily refer to the past. I'm trying to think if there's a tense or construction you can use without specifying a point in time such as "back then". – Zebrafish Aug 13 '18 at 13:30
  • @RegDwigнt A lot of people talk like that. Well, not your exaggerated example, of course, which is ungrammatical, but all three examples in the question are perfectly natural and highly likely to be heard in regular conversation, with the appropriate contractions, of course. “He’da done anything you’d ask/you’d asked/you’da asked him to” (AmE) is perfectly commonplace. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 11 at 9:07
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He would do anything you asked him to.

"Would" is the past tense of "will".

  • This still isn't clear it's referring back to the past. Take for example: "I would do anything you asked me to." I'm not sure there's a simple way to do this clearly without adding extra information as FumbleFingers did, with "back then he would do..." – Zebrafish Aug 13 '18 at 13:45
  • To Zebrafish Whats then the difference between these two? – J.J. Aug 13 '18 at 14:34
  • I would have done anything you HAD ASKED me to! & I would do anything you asked me to! – J.J. Aug 13 '18 at 14:34
  • @J.J. The first is referring to the past, the second is referring to now. Things are complicated though, because you can't tell always from the tense used. "would have done" in grammars is called the conditional perfect or past conditional. "I would do" is called the simple conditional or present conditional. However just to make things more confusing, there's nothing conditional about the following sentence: "I would wash the dishes and he would rinse them." This likely means some time ago I washed the dishes and he rinsed them." – Zebrafish Aug 14 '18 at 1:46
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I can't think of the employment of a tense, which conveys your intended meaning. The closest I can get to one is:

"He would have done anything you asked him to."

Though this may not be totally immune to misconstrual, as it may suggest contingency on a condition.

"He would have done anything (if condition were true) you asked him to."

It's true as others have suggested that it's simpler to say:

"He would do anything you asked him to."

But this isn't totally unambiguous, as evidenced by the meaning apparent in:

"I would do anything you asked me to."

This doesn't necessarily refer to the past. "Would" doesn't have to refer to the past, eg.: "I would go but I don't have the money".

And "asked" doesn't necessarily refer to the past either, as evidenced by its meaning in:

"If you asked me to jump off a bridge, I'd tell you to go to hell."

It's possible that the most clear way of conveying your desired meaning is to do what FumbleFingers said in their comment, that is, qualify the sentence with extra information as to a time you're referring to:

"Back then, he would do anything you asked him."
- Courtesy of FumbleFingers.

By specifically including "back then", you make an implication that the statement you make applied earlier, but no longer does. But this is an implication, not a necessity.

  • Shouldn't it be 'He would have done anything you had asked him to'? – J.J. Aug 13 '18 at 14:38
  • And what's the difference between these sentences? – J.J. Aug 13 '18 at 14:39
  • I would have done anything you HAD ASKED me to! & I would do anything you asked me to! – J.J. Aug 13 '18 at 14:39
  • @J.J. First of all, I don't see any of your examples as being wrong, though I agree with what's said in the comments that it can and should be simplified, maybe how FumbleFingers suggested. Secondly, I don't know of any rule that's violated by not matching tenses between clauses or within a sentence. Examples: "I did what you've requested." "I've done what you requested." "I've done what you had requested." Finally, as to your question of what's the difference between the two, the first is saying "I would have done" (before), and the second means "I would do" (now). – Zebrafish Aug 14 '18 at 1:37
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    It is not complicated. “Would” is both modal and auxiliary, so tense/past/present has nothing to do with it - that is handled by the verb coming after “would”. As a modal auxiliary, “would” is marking only conditionality or contingency, not time. Separate those two functions and all the complication disappears. – Roaring Fish Aug 20 '18 at 23:16
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“Would” is both modal and auxiliary, so tense/past/present has nothing to do with it - that is handled by the verb coming after “would”. As a modal auxiliary, “would” is marking only conditionality or contingency, not time. Separate those two functions and all the complication disappears. – Roaring Fish

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