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A boy from Colorado loved to hike and rock climb. One day while climbing in the mountains, he found an eagle's nest with an egg in it. He took the egg from the nest, and when he got home, he put it under a hen along with her other eggs. Since he hatched among chicks, the eagle thought he was a chicken. He learned chicken behavior from his "mother" and scratched in the chicken yard along with his "siblings." And when he sometimes felt strange stirrings within him, he didn't know what to do with them, so he ignored them or suppressed them. After all, if he was a chicken, he should behave like a chicken.

I would like to know the difference between "1" in the above passage and "2".

1. If he was a chicken, he should behave like a chicken.

2. If he was a chicken, he would behave like a chicken.
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Wowenglish1. If he was a chicken, he should behave like a chicken.
In the context, that sentence suggests a meaning something like this:
- Given the fact that he was raised as a chicken, he has an obligation to behave like a chicken (even though he might not actually be a chicken). That's why he always behaves like a chicken.
Wowenglish2. If he was a chicken, he would behave like a chicken.
This sentence suggests this meaning:
- He is not a chicken. Therefore he does not behave like a chicken.
Isn't it incorrect in both versions? Shouldn't it be 'were' to conform with the second conditional, which requires the past subjunctive, not the indicative?
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Hi English 1b3

The traditional grammar for a type 2 conditional calls for "were" rather than "was". However, there are a couple of things I think we ought to keep in mind.

Firstly, "was" is widely used instead of "were" in type 2 conditionals -- especially in informal or everyday English. Virtually all reputable grammar books recognize and accept this fact nowadays. Thus, I would only view the use of "was" to be wrong in a type 2 conditional sentence if the text was supposed to be formal.

Secondly, we have a narrative here. In other words, we ought to remember that the text is written in a certain style. The way I see it, that last sentence can be seen as a way of telling us what the eagle was saying to himself -- what he was thinking.
Consider this bit earlier in the text:
Wowenglishthe eagle thought he was a chicken.
In essence, the author is telling us what the eagle was saying to himself -- what the eagle believed to be unalterable fact. The eagle's direct speech (thought) was something like this:
- "I am a chicken."

The narrative is told in the third person, and it is about the past. Thus, the eagle's thought turns into this:

- He was a chicken. (He thought he was a chicken./He told himself he was a chicken.)

So, the word "was" can be seen as a simple backshift to the past tense.
WowenglishAfter all, if he was a chicken, he should behave like a chicken.
You might say the author is reminding us here about the eagle's words to himself.

In view of the fact that the eagle believed (told himself) he was a chicken, it is not surprising that he also believed (told himself) he should behave like a chicken.

We might think of the idea above this way:

If the eagle in the story believes he is a chicken, then it is not surprising that he also believes he should behave like a chicken.

Thus, I imagine it might also be fair to say that the last sentence in the narrative qualifies as a so-called "zero conditional."
Hi, Yankee,

Since you seem to have a stronger understanding of conditionals than I, I would like to ask you a question relating to this topic, if I may.

Since this extract is in the past tense, only was and were is acceptable in the conditional sentence we are discussing.

What if the extract were (was) in the present tense, would we use the present tense in the conditional (if clause) clause, creating a first conditional sentence, and thus establishing a very likely scenario, as opposed to an unikey scenario established with the second conditional?

If you could clear this up, that would be great. Thanks
Hi English 1b3

I think you must have missed my point entirely. I have already posted a present tense version, and I did that specifically to support the idea of the zero conditional. Do you know what a "zero conditional" is?

Are you suggesting that changing the extract to the present tense might suddenly make the final sentence in the text "more conditional" than it was when it was in the past tense?
YankeeIf the eagle in the story believes he is a chicken, then it is not surprising that he also believes he should behave like a chicken.
As I see it, the original sentence from the text would look like this if we changed the narrative to present tense (but left it in the third person):

- After all, if he is a chicken, he should/must/has to behave like a chicken.

Here is a fact presented in the story:

1. The eagle is a chicken.

The author presents that idea as being factual from the eagle's point of view. Of course, the reader knows that it is not factual, but the eagle doesn't. The eagle has no idea whatsoever that he is not a chicken. He simply believes he is a chicken. The eagle does not believe that it is only probable or theoretically possible that he is a chicken. From the eagle's point of view, the fact is simply this: he is a chicken. And because he is a chicken, he thinks it is right for him to behave like a chicken.

In short, I don't see the word "was" in the last sentence of the text as being part of a type 2 conditional at all. To me, the final sentence means basically the same thing as this (in the context of the story):

- Since/Because he believed he was a chicken, he also believed he should behave like a chicken.

The sentence provides the reader with the reason the eagle ignored his "eagle stirrings".
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Hi, Yankee

I was just asking you what happens if the text was in present tense?

As is, it is in second conditional and therefore talks about something either in the present or future, correct? In this case, it would be talking about something in the present, is that right?

If the text was in present tense, what happens then? Would we change it to zero conditional? Is that what you're suggesting?
English 1b3As is, it is in second conditional
No, that is NOT the way I see it.

The only reason the author used "was" rather than "is" is because the narration is in the past tense. The story takes place in the past.

In the narrative, the word "was" refers to a fact, not to a hypothetical condition. You need keep in mind that this is a narrative. The author (the narrator) is omniscient . The author knows everything there is to know about the characters in the story -- including what they think and believe. Thus, you need to add the eagle's point of view to the equation here, because in my opinion, when the author wrote that final sentence, it was from the eagle's point of view. And from the eagle's point of view, he is a chicken. As far as the eagle is concerned, he does not view his "chickenhood" as being theoretical or unreal (i.e. it is not a second conditional situation to him). He also does not view his "chickenhood" as a probable condition (i.e. it is not a first conditional situation to him). The eagle sees his "chickenhood" as a fact -- something that is always true. He is a chicken! Period! That is what the eagle believes to be unalterable truth.

I'll repeat this one more time:
The only reason that "was" (simple past tense, indicative) appears in the sentence is that the extract is a narration (story) of things that happened in the past.
Thanks, as I said, your understanding of the conditionals is stronger than mine, so it's hepful for me to ask you questions.

One last question, since I seem to be slightly confused over how conditionals and tenses work together.

If a text is in past tense, and I want to write a second conditional sentence (i.e. slight chance it will happen), I use the past subjunctive. But if the text is in present tense and I want to write a second conditional sentence, I still use the past tense, correct?

And the same would go for all other conditionals? As in, if there were a story in present tense, I would still use the past tense if I wanted the second conditional?

Thanks for your help with this.
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