CHAPTER 10. FORM RELATIVITY GALORE

We have seen the verb form “HAVE” as a head verb, to mean owning, keeping, tolerating or eating something. We can have books, spare copies of texts, as well as bad weather and good meals.

As an auxiliary, “HAVE” brings ancillary grammatical time. We may like what we have been learning, as well as we can be happy to have exercised and become fit.

With theory making, the ancillary regard becomes netted, and the verb form “HAVE” works as a syntactic device, an anchor to close the frame on time.

For patterns named the Unreal Past or Conditional, classic grammar advice may tell there could be nonexistent time spans. To look around our potentially accessory fruit, we resolved always to have real time, allowing for mind or think time as well. After all, even if we tell stories of fairy lands, we have the grammatical PRESENT, PAST, or FUTURE.

We have viewed time as on a symbolic line. Let us think about eating a cookie and keeping it for later, to compare the classic premise (eating the cookie) and consequent (not having it for later).

CLASSIC ZERO CONDITIONAL
82. If you eat the cookie, you DO NOT have it for later.

Both the target grammatical time and the language form are the PRESENT.

CLASSIC FIRST CONDITIONAL
83. If you eat the cookie, you WILL NOT have it.
The target grammatical time is the FUTURE;
The language form is the PRESENT.

We saw the verb form “WILL” in the fields of time at the beginning of our language journey.

The verb form “WILL” maps on the FUTURE already in its PRESENT grammatical shape. We may compare Modal uses:
84. She WILL be reading now.
(I am sure she is reading now.)

CLASSIC SECOND CONDITIONAL
85. If you ate the cookie,
you WOULD NOT have it.
The target grammatical time is the PRESENT;
The language form is the PAST.

CLASSIC THIRD CONDITIONAL
86. If you had eaten the cookie, you WOULD NOT have had it.
The target grammatical time is the PAST;
The language form is the anchored PAST.

CLASSIC FOURTH / MIXED CONDITIONAL
87. If you had eaten the cookie, you WOULD NOT have it.
The target grammatical time joins the PAST and the PRESENT;
The language forms are, accordingly, the anchored PAST and PAST.

All the way, the form goes a step forward, in its target grammatical time reference.

PAST forms refer to the PRESENT, and PRESENT forms refer to the FUTURE. It is only the anchored PAST to stay in the PAST, but many resources will have it for an antecedent PAST.

We may agree there is one PAST, as there is one PRESENT and one FUTURE.


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Classic guidance would advise the First Conditional when probability for something is high, and the Second for things more probable than those in the Third.

88. If I WERE you, I WOULD . . .
We could label example 88 as the Second Conditional or Unreal Past, yet it conveys zero probability, for the PRESENT, PAST, as well as FUTURE: the likelihood to become another human individual literally and ever really is zero, for everyone.

88a. *I AM you . . . / *You ARE me . . . ?

The classic Third Conditional supposedly tells about least probable events. Example 89 yet might be telling about a prevented thing.

89. If you HAD NOT taken care of it, this handle WOULD HAVE broken off.

Examples 90 and 90a are both the classic First Conditional, yet one conveys PROBABILITY and the other CERTAINTY.

90. If you take care of this handle, it MIGHT work.
(The probability is low.)

90a. If you take care of this handle, it WILL work.
(The probability is very high. Taking care of the handle is certain to bring a working condition.)

These are Modal verbs, to tell on probability or certainty, and not syntactic structures as Conditional or Unreal. Our choice on syntactic structuring may regard real time. Feel welcome: ■→10.1. UNREAL OR REAL TIME.

■→This text is also available in Polish.


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The world may never have seen her original handwriting, if her skill was taken for supernatural. Feel welcome to Poems by Emily Dickinson prepared for print by Teresa Pelka: thematic stanzas, notes on the Greek and Latin inspiration, the correlative with Webster 1828, and the Aristotelian motif, Things perpetual — these are not in time, but in eternity.
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