I would like to write about a speculative situation in the past and a possible result in the past. For example,

(1) If A did X, Y occurred.

(2) If A did X, Y could have occurred.

(3) If A did X, Y would have occurred.

(4) If A did X, Y might have occurred.

(5) If A did X, Y should have occurred.

We have no idea whether A did X or not, so I think example (3) is not appropriate. I would use example (1), if I am pretty certain that under this condition (If A did X), the main clause is true (Y occurred). But this is not the case. Even if the condition is true, there are multiple possibilities and Y is just one of them. So I can't use example (5). Do you think example (2) or (4) could convey the meaning I would like to express?

1 Answer 1


I would go with #2.

If A did... you don't know what A did or didn't do.

But if A had done X, then Y could have occurred.

Not knowing if Y occurred or not in the past means it may or may not have happened.

Even if we knew now that Y did happen, how do you know that it was a result of anything A did or did not do?

Maybe B did something else entirely, causing Y to have occurred.

Once again, we'll never know.

  • Just to clarify, do you think #2 is the best way to express the uncertainty of causal relationship regarding a past event? Or is there any better way to express this? Thank you very much for your help!
    – hkim
    May 18, 2020 at 0:15
  • @ hkim, I believe that number two fits. I will agree that might have happened runs a close second. May 18, 2020 at 0:18
  • Thank you so much for your clarification!
    – hkim
    May 18, 2020 at 0:19
  • @ hkim One last thing - if B did the same thing as A at the same moment as A, Y might have occurred.... :) May 18, 2020 at 0:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.