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Hi, I really don't know what kind of tense I can put after "I", and what native speakers usually say:

  1. My dad would kill me if he knew I am playing with his gun.

  2. My dad would kill me if he knew I was playing with his gun.

  3. My dad would kill me if he knew I have been playing with his gun.

  4. My dad would kill me if he knew I had been playing with his gun.
In addition, what do they mean? ( I'd like to know something like this: "In #2 you are using the gun, in #4 you used the gun before saying this sentence, etc.")

And what about these: Emotion: thinking

  1. If my father found out I am homosexual, he wouldn't be proud of me.

  2. If my father found out I was homosexual, he wouldn't be proud of me.

  3. What if somebody told your girlfriend you are homosexual? Would you get mad?

  4. What if somebody told your girlfriend you was homosexual? Would you get mad?
So, as you can see, I'm having trouble with "If sentences"that are made up of two or more parts. Past tenses are ok in reported speech ( backshifting ), but when it comes to conditional sentences, what am I supposed to do? Emotion: tongue tied I also think my choice could depend on what verb is used ( for exampleknew is often used with the past simple: "I knew you were right!").

Thank you in advance.
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The canonical structures keep present-point-of-view (Present POV) verb tenses together in the same sentence or the past-point-of-view (Past POV) verb tenses together in the same sentence.

Present POV tenses: Present, Present Perfect, tenses with am, is, are, has, have, will.
Past POV tenses: Past, Past Perfect, tenses with was, were, had, would.

My dad will kill me if he finds out I am playing with his gun.
My dad would kill me if he [found out / knew] I was playing with his gun.

If my father finds out I am homosexual, he [will not / won't be] proud of me.
If my father found out I was homosexual, he [would not / wouldn't] be proud of me.


Note that the first sentence in each pair is in the present POV; the second, in past POV.
With if structures, however, the past POV structures connote the remoteness of some hypothesized world rather than remoteness in time. These are past in form and present in meaning. So in the second sentences of each pair we can insert the word now, thus:

My dad would kill me now if he [found out / knew] now I was now playing with his gun.
If my father found out now I was now homosexual, he [would not / wouldn't] now be proud of me.

You really have to master these structures thoroughly before you try to understand the cases where changes in point of view happen within a single sentence.

CJ
Thank you very much CalifJim,

These are past in form and present in meaning. So in the second sentences of each pair we can insert the word now, thus:

My dad would kill me now if he [found out / knew] now I was now playing with his gun.
If my father found out now I was now homosexual, he [would not / wouldn't] now be proud of me.


That was my problem. I was afraid the past tense was past in meaning as well. Now I can understand.

But now... what if I really want the past meaning?

A. My dad will kill me if he finds out I [have been/ was] playing with his gun ( I want to say I played with the gun earlier. What kind of verb? )


B. My dad would kill me if he [found out / knew] I had been playing with his gun ( The same as above. I want to say that I played with the gun some time earlier).


Thanks.
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What if I really want the past meaning?

Use the corresponding perfect tenses. This forms a third sentence in a series of three.

My dad would have killed me if he had found out I [was / had been] playing with his gun.

Your sentences are particularly complex because they have three clauses. It seems you are trying to understand and master too many principles all at once.

Pres. POV. He knows I am playing with his gun. (knowing and playing at the same time)
He knows I have been playing with his gun. (knowing after playing)
Past POV. He knew I was playing with his gun. (knowing and playing at the same time)
He knew I had been playing with his gun. (knowing after playing)

In an if clause (same time relationships as above):
Pres. POV. If he knows I am playing with his gun ... (he will ...)
If he knows I have been playing with his gun ... (he will ...)
Past POV If he knew I was playing with his gun ... (he would ...)
If he knew I had been playing with his gun ... (he would ...)

Third form* If he had known I was playing with his gun ... (he would have ...)
If he had known I had been playing with his gun ... (he would have ...)

*Counterfactual: In both cases, he actually had not known.

You need to get a good textbook if you want to get into the subtleties of these constructions. It's not really possible to write an entire chapter or two of a textbook for you on this website! Emotion: smile

CJ
Thank you so much Califjim!

I know about the 1st, 2nd and 3rd conditional form (and mixed conditional), I was only having trouble with complex sentences made up of three or more clauses (especially If he knew I was playing with his gun ... ). Maybe I was confused because of my native language. In Italian, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd conditional structure is the same as in English, but in If he knew I was playing with his gun ... , was would have a past meaning. So I'll have to be careful from now on.

Anyway now I'm clear...

...and thank you again Jim!!! [y]
in If he knew I was playing with his gun ... , was would have a past meaning.
Interesting. You don't need to use had been in that case (in your language) to be absolutely clear about the past meaning?

In English, the past is often used instead of the past perfect, so there is a reading of that if clause in which was can be taken to mean had been, thus indicating the past meaning that I think you are talking about, but that creates an ambiguity, so I did not mention it earlier because I didn't want to add complications to an already complicated subject. Emotion: smile

CJ
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Thank you for having pointed this out:

In English, the past is often used instead of the past perfect, so there is a reading of that if clause in which was can be taken to mean had been, thus indicating the past meaning that I think you are talking about, but that creates an ambiguity, so I did not mention it earlier because I didn't want to add complications to an already complicated subject.


I see. For the same reason (that is, since lots of Americans tend to use the past simple instead of the past perfect or the present perfect), I think this sentence,

If my father finds out I have been at that party, he would...

could sometimes be written: If my father finds out I was at that party, he would...



Interesting. You don't need to use had been in that case (in your language) to be absolutely clear about the past meaning?

I thought about it. Actually, it is more common have been. I think Had been could sometimes be used in my regional dialect, in Italian wouldn't sound very good.
So, will it be incorrect to say:
«I can't imagine what he would do if he knew I play with his gun in his absence»?
CalifJim
in If he knew I was playing with his gun ... , was would have a past meaning.
Interesting. You don't need to use had been in that case (in your language) to be absolutely clear about the past meaning?

In English, the past is often used instead of the past perfect, so there is a reading of that if clause in which was can be taken to mean had been, thus indicating the past meaning that I think you are talking about, but that creates an ambiguity, so I did not mention it earlier because I didn't want to add complications to an already complicated subject. Emotion: smile

CJ
I think that it would be interesting to find out how many languages don't need to use had beenin that sentence to be absolutely clear about the past meaning. My language doesn't as well. Emotion: smile What is even more interesting, my mother tongue does have 1st, 2nd and 3rd conditionals butthe third is never used in (colloquial?) spoken language, we use the second instead. Emotion: embarrassed And if someone does try to use the 3rd conditional in spoken language, many people might find it unusal and odd. Actually, some people can't even create the third conditional correctly, especially in the negative. One of the many reasons why English is thought to be the easiest language to learn, I think. Emotion: wink
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