1. SHorgan
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    SHorgan Member

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    Conditionals

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by SHorgan, May 20, 2011.

    Hey all, I'm currently in a little bit of a predicament. Please consider this conversation:

    Manager: Ready for your first management meeting? I see you've prepped a list of questions to ask the big boss.

    Recently-promoted staff member: Yes sir, I am. I'm nervous, though. We all know how bad-tempered she can be, especially if she thinks we're not going by the book. What if it ended up badly and I got fired as a result?

    Manager: Don't be silly! She wouldn't do that. Besides, you're only asking, not questioning her policies. You'll be fine, don't worry.


    Here are the questions: Is the bold text grammatically correct and/or appropriate?
    Is "What if it ends up badly and I get fired as a result?" less, equally or more correct and/or appropriate?
    Do the rules for conditional sentences apply to this question?
     
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  2. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Until someone more knowledgeable answers your question, I'll give it a shot.

    I think your first version is the most formally correct - it uses the conditional tense. But the other, simplified version with present tense is also used a lot.
     
  3. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Being that it is dialogue - then forget grammar and stay true to the voice of the character.

    I don't think people worry about tenses when they are actually talking casually - they just say, in their own unique voice, whatever comes into their heads.

    However, talking formally to someone in a more senior position than they are, they may watch their Ps and Qs, then again, they maybe nervous and mess things up. It is up to you.

    ends and get sound better to me. But grammar is my weak point.
     
  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your example (PAST SIMPLE + PAST SIMPLE) doesn’t fall into the recognised pattern of grammatically correct conditional sentences.

    Bar a few variations with modals, you have:

    Zero conditional (the situation is like this/giving orders) PRESENT + PRESENT/IMPERATIVE: If you eat too much, you put on weight. / If you see John, tell him I called.
    First conditional (predicting future possibility) PRESENT SIMPLE + WILL/WON’T: If it rains, I will stay at home / I won’t go out.
    Second conditional (very unlikely possibility) PAST SIMPLE + WOULD + VERB: If I were a rich man, I would dubba dubba dubba dubba da. / If Jill were here, she would know what to do (was is always conjugated as were for 2nd conditional).
    Third conditional (impossible, because it's in the past so can’t be changed) PAST PERFECT + WOULD HAVE + PAST PARTICIPLE: If I had known about the accident, I would have visited you in hospital.

    And you have mixed conditionals, which fall into the pattern:

    - Past + present meaning: If I’d been born in the US, I’d speak American English.
    - Past + future meaning: If I hadn’t spent my money, I’d take you out tonight.
    - Present + past meaning: If I spoke French, I’d have spoken to Madame Ferrier myself.
    - Present + future meaning: If she were better-looking, he’d be taking her to the ball.
    - Future + past meaning: If I weren’t away next week, I would have bought tickets.
    - Future + present meaning: If I were doing that exam, I would be really nervous.

    'What if' sentences are like 'suppose' sentences for guessing the future:

    What if/Suppose it ends badly and I get fired? (PRESENT SIMPLE + PRESENT SIMPLE), so your second example is correct.

    But if your past tense example is how your character and people you have observed usually speak, no sweat. People don’t always conform to a grammar guide!
     
  5. SHorgan
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    SHorgan Member

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    Thankyou madhoca, the second example is what I think sounds normal. The reason for this post is I've recently been told by somebody else that the first case is correct, and after having questioned my family and a few friends but as of yet being able to produce concrete grammatical evidence, this person remained adamant in their judgement.

    Also, nice touch with the Gwen Stefani.
     
  6. James Scarborough
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    James Scarborough Member

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    Without citing formal grammar rules, the first example would be correct only if the meeting with the boss was uncertain: "I'd like to meet with the boss, but what if it turned out badly?" In your context, the second example is correct: "I'm going to meet with the boss, but what if it turns out badly?"

    Lets use a different set of examples which should be more obvious:

    Correct: "I'm going to the convenience store to buy tofu, but what if they don't have it?"

    Correct: "I'd go to the convenience store to buy tofu, but what if they didn't have it?"

    Incorrect: "I'm going to the convenience store to buy tofu, but what if they didn't have it?" (It should be obvious that this is wrong.)

    I hope this helps.
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi again James, just remembered another rather old-fashioned construction:

    What if it were to end badly, and I got fired?

    It's the WERE + TO + VERB that's missing in your past tense example, but maybe that's what the person arguing with you is thinking of?
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    both are correct and either one would work, depending on how you want this character to speak...
     
  9. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    It's dialogue. I wouldn't get all caught up on grammar. When you're narrating, on the other hand, then you can worry about conditionals.
     
  10. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    "Ends" and "gets" sounds better in my opinion. That way it sounds more like the staff member is asking a legitimate question. I think the first way sounds like a rhetorical question, or like it's something more narrative than what a person would actually say out loud.
     

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