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The sentence:

Had the doctor been more careful, my cousin might still have been alive.

In this construction, the two fragments of the sentence are more parallel with their use of been. Had he been xyz, she might still have been xyz.

Would this be better instead:

Had the doctor been more careful, my cousin might still be alive.

I've read other might have been vs. might be posts here (such as this one) and the architecture is not very clear in situations such as this one here. Might have been is a clearer expression if the situation is in the past, but with being alive, it's different -- the qualifying situation is in the past, but being alive is by definition in the 'present'.

Dictionaries such as OED are a bit cavalier in recommending that may and might etc can be used interchangeably these days, which is not helpful. Welcome any guidance!

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    It's not a mater of "better". Perhaps the time when the doctor could have been more careful was many decades ago, and your cousin was already quite old back then, so would inevitably have died of old age by now (time of speaking) even if she's survived the doctor's carelessness. All that really matters is whether you're talking about your cousin potentially surviving until now, or simply that she might not have died at the time of the medical intervention. – FumbleFingers May 13 at 16:26
  • Note that had and might in your second version imply that these are unreal "possibilities". You can't really use may there unless you recast to If the doctor was [more] careful, my cousin may still be alive (referring to unknown possibilities, rather than things we know aren't true). – FumbleFingers May 13 at 16:32
  • @FumbleFingers thank you. Yes, may is not applicable here. The contest is between might have been and might be (alive). This is not so far back in the past that aging and natural death apply. Let's say it's two years ago and the cousin in question was young. Then which one is a better construction? – Khom Nazid May 13 at 16:47
  • If it helps, the cousin might have been alive now. – Khom Nazid May 13 at 16:57
  • Your "hypothetical had" usage is relatively formal / starchy today. Most native speakers would probably just say If the doctor had been more careful, my cousin might still be alive. – FumbleFingers May 13 at 17:12
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Both are correct. One indicates a different time frame from the other.

Had the doctor been more careful, my cousin might still be alive.

This sentences describes the PRESENT time. My brother would still be alive NOW.

Had the doctor been more careful, my cousin might still have been alive.

This sentences describes a PAST time. My brother would have still been alive at that moment in the past...

This is really more of a question of the past perfect than the use of the modal verb might.

  • Thank you! Yes, this is what @FumbleFingers above clarified, but it was in a comment. So I'll mark your answer as the correct one. Much appreciated. – Khom Nazid May 14 at 0:53

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