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Unreal tenses use the past tense for present situations and the past perfect for past situations. For example:

"I would rather we had never met" =past perfect for past time

"I would rather you smoked outside." = past for present time

But what about these (where the sentence is no longer complex):

"I would rather kick the ball" = present situation, using modal tense, not the past tense

"I would rather have kicked the ball" = using modal perfect tense for past situation

1) Is this just an exception to the rule, or is it because unreal tenses are reserved for subordinate clauses?

2) Also, why do sites say the unreal tense is the past tense or past perfect? Shouldn't they be clear/correct and say past subjunctive and past perfect subjunctive respectively?

3) Why do we restrict real tenses to only some hypothetical expressions (it's high time, I'd rather, etc)?

Thanks
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English 1b3Unreal tenses use the past tense for present situations and the past perfect for past situations. For example:
This is true for constructions like "I would rather + clause", "I wish + clause" and for the antecedent of 'unreal' conditionals.

In your further examples the structure is "I would rather + verb", which is completely different. Here "I" is the subject and the verb is bound to it.

Each of the structures has its own use. When speaking about yourself, say: "I would rather kick the ball". When speaking about your desire (or preference) toward someone/something else, say: "I would rather he kicked the ball". These structures are not interchangeable at all.
English 1b3Is this just an exception to the rule, or is it because unreal tenses are reserved for subordinate clauses?
Unreal tense is the tense used to express the 'unreal' action/situation. It is used in the subordinate clause in the "I wish + clause" structure", while in conditionals ("If (clause) I would ...") the hypothesis is expressed in the main clause (the If-clause). But let not terminology issues confuse you Emotion: smile
English 1b3Also, why do sites say the unreal tense is the past tense or past perfect? Shouldn't they be clear/correct and say past subjunctive and past perfect subjunctive respectively?
The hypothetic situation is expressed using the unreal tense, one's actions in this hypothetic situation are expressed using the subjunctive:

If (situation) then (action)

Ex.: If I had been born (situation) 120 years ago I would have died (action/result) now.
English 1b3Why do we restrict real tenses to only some hypothetical expressions (it's high time, I'd rather, etc)?
I don't think we do. But grammar books sometimes do, because it makes examples and explanations shorter.

Anton
Ant_222
Unreal tense is the tense used to express the 'unreal' action/situation. It is used in the subordinate clause in the "I wish + clause" structure", while in conditionals ("If (clause) I would ...") the hypothesis is expressed in the main clause (the If-clause). But let not terminology issues confuse you Emotion: smile


This is untrue. An 'if clause' is not a main clause, so my terminology and point holds true.
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English 1b3This is untrue. An 'if clause' is not a main clause, so my terminology and point holds true.
Yes, I was incorrect about this, but does not affect the rest of my post.

I will repeat my main point: Unreal tense is used to describe a hypothetical situation, while the subjunctive is used to express an action in or a result of this situation.

Anton
Ant_222Unreal tense is used to describe a hypothetical situation, while the subjunctive is used to express an action in or a result of this situation
Are you sure? The subjunctive is still used in the hypothetical situation--

If I were you, I would...

were=past subjunctive, unreal tense, showing hypothetical situation
English 1b3Are you sure? The subjunctive is still used in the hypothetical situation--

...

were=past subjunctive, unreal tense, showing hypothetical situation
Yes, but in modern English there's a tendency to use Past Simple: «If I was you, I would...», in which case it is a pure tense.

Anton
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This is my experience in learning the subjunctives. This word haunted me for several years because I couldn't understand the different moods and subjunctive verbs clearly enough to use it correctly.
Although not an expert, I feel what I know about subjunctives now can help me navigate through this "mess".

It would seem to me that if someone wants to set the mood up for a subjunctive conversation or passage, the odds is, he would most likely say "if I were you..." in north Amercia rather than "If I was you..." if he is a main stream educated professional. I understand, however, "If I was ...." may be used when something you said in a social gathering which may have caused other to feel uncomfortable but without your realizing until your friend told you. In this context, you may say in your apology "If I was inappropriate in my language, please accept my apology". One must not be confused this with subjunctive conditioanl as some (learners and natives alike) may believe. Subjunctive mood is a treacherous area in English in my opinion. That said, good English is standard English which has its roots and traditions, at least for as long as I have learned and lived it.

But I crinch everytime I hear "Modern English"; becasue there is no base or standard for such a term. This excerpt probably expains why subjunctive is such a messy confusion.

http://thelanguagelady.blogspot.com/2009/12/if-i-were-in-subjunctive-mood.html

The reason both are used is due to basic language change: that is, it seems that teachers stopped teaching the English subjunctive decades ago – even before they stopped teaching English grammar all together 30-plus years ago. So the older generation continued saying, “If I were you,” while the younger generation began saying, “If I was you,” since no one explained the subjunctive rules to them. And when enough people say something for a long enough period, then that too becomes standard, acceptable English – even if it still seems “wrong.” Language, as with all things, changes (alas).

The textbook, “Grammar In Use”/Intermediate by British linguist Raymond Murphy, Cambridge University Press, 2007, which I use -- and love – for my English as a Second Language students, accepts both forms. On a more grass roots level, googling “If I were you” elicits 356 million results, as opposed to “If I was you” -- and a whopping 2.6 billion! The people are clearly speaking........

The English subjunctive still hanging on in two cases: one, is with what I call business-type, more formal verbs: insist, request, demand, recommend, suggest; even there it is only visible with the 3rd person singular, as in “My boss insists that everyone BRING a laptop (not: “that everyone brings”);” or “They requested that she SIT in the corner (not: that she sits).

The subjunctive is more clearly seen in such cases with the verb, “be”:

“I ask that you BE quiet (not: ”that you are”)”; “The president suggested that all be at the meeting on time.”

The other place the English subjunctive is still hanging on (albeit by the proverbial thread) is in the hypothetical case with “if” and “as if”: “If I had a million dollars …” “as If I knew the answer …” “If /as if she understood the problem,” etc. All of these hypothetical clauses take what sounds like past tense; however, it is really the past tense (“you” form) AS the subjunctive form.

This usage is more apparent with the verb “to be” – particularly, when used in phrases like, “If I were you;” and “He wishes she were here.”
Ant_222Yes, but in modern English there's a tendency to use Past Simple: «If I was you, I would...», in which case it is a pure tense
Yes, but even this is a subjunctive in the subordinate clause:

If I walked home, I would be exhausted by now.