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I would like to ask you for clarification, if the usage of the when clause is correct in the second conditional.

In one book I found the sentence:

When the factory came online in 1990, he would control the best factory in the world.

The first part of the sentence - When the factory came online in 1990 - never happened.

Is the when clause correctly used instead of an if clause?

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Without knowing the context, it seems to me that this sentence is more an example of reported thought than the conditional. I assume that the author of the book was writing about the time before 1990, when the manufacturer had a firm plan for his factory to go online in that year.

The manufacturer's thinking, pre-1990, was:

When the factory comes online in 1990, I will control the best factory in the world.

This thinking was backshifted in its reporting by the author to:

When the factory came online in 1990, he would control the best factory in the world.

A dependent clause starting with if rather than when is also possible. But it would convey a doubt about the realisation of the plan, which the manufacturer presumably did not have.

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  • Or think of it as relative to somebody's belief at the time. For instance, in a novel set entirely in 1985, where the third-person narrative describes a character's thought process: He knew that when the factory came online in 1990, he would control the best factory in the world. – Jason Bassford Aug 7 '19 at 16:19

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