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I have a question which has been on my mind for a long time. Five years ago I stayed in England for 2 months during which I could improve my English skills thanks to a native teacher. Throughout the whole course she would underline that the "would have been" construction is absolutely old-fashioned and that contemporary native speakers only use "would be" only in any cases. According to her, a sentence like "Mary told us she would have been here by 3 pm" would sound definitely odd. Yet I am not fully convinced about what she taught me then. I was training for my English exam by completing some 'key word transformation' and the system spotted a mistake at:

Steve could only go on holiday because his best friend gave him the money. (ABLE)

If Steve's best friend hadn't given him the money, he ___________ to go on holiday.

I completed it with "would not be able" according to what my teacher said. Yet, it seems to be incorrect because it should be "wouldn't have been able", which is actually logical. Can you explain the use of this expression and whether it is used or not? Thanks.

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luorCan you explain the use of this expression and whether it is used or not? Thanks.

It is the third conditional form, which is very common and natural English.

If Steve's best friend hadn't given him the money, he wouldn't have been able to go on holiday.
Mary told us she would have been here by 3 pm if she hadn't been delayed by a traffic jam.

https://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-conditional-third.htm

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I don't know where your teacher got that idea from. Emotion: surprise

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luorThroughout the whole course she would underline that the "would have been" construction is absolutely old-fashioned

I'm not sure "old-fashioned" characterizes it accurately, but in certain circumstances (not all) your teacher has a point.

luora sentence like "Mary told us she would have been here by 3 pm" would sound definitely odd.

It sounds a little odd to me as well.

Here's how reported speech works: will becomes would; will have becomes would have. Thus,

Mary (speaking to us): "I will be here by 3 pm."
Mary told us that she would be here by 3 pm.

Mary (speaking to us): "I will have been here by 3 pm."
Mary told us that she would have been here by 3 pm.

Your teacher and I are not persuaded that I will have been here by 3 pm is something likely to have been said (not that it's impossible). As a means of communicating a very simple concept, it's much too twisted. Thus, its corresponding reported version also sounds odd.

luorI completed it with "would not be able" according to what my teacher said. Yet, it seems to be incorrect because it should be "wouldn't have been able", which is actually logical.

Your teacher should have said that her remarks were limited to cases where a subordinate clause conforms to the "sequence of tenses" principle, and not to the normal tense structure of conditional formulas.

says that ... will > said that ... would
knows that ... will > knew that ... would
thinks that ... will > thought that ... would

In conditional formulas you have

if do, will
if did, would

if had done, would have

If she really meant her remarks to apply across the board to all uses of would have been, then she was wrong.

By the way, if you have both a report and a conditional, i.e., a report of a conditional, you have this relationship, already illustrated by Alphecca Stars.

Mary: "I'll be there by 3 pm if I'm not delayed by a traffic jam."
Once the delay does occur, and Mary is not there by 3 pm., you use the counterfactual conditional:
Mary told us she would have been here if she hadn't been delayed by a traffic jam.

CJ

Comments  

There are 4 types of conditional sentences. The one you posted is the 3rd type which by formula is expressed as [ If+ subject + had +past participle] [ subject + would have+ past participle]
If Steve's best friend hadn't given him the money, he wouldn't have been able to go on holiday.

Here is a link that may help answer your questions better. https://www.grammarly.com/blog/conditional-sentences/

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Thank you. So I am supposed to look at the verb in the first sentence. If it is a past perfect I must use "would have been". Now, it's clearer.

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luor

Thank you. So I am supposed to look at the verb in the first sentence. If it is a past perfect I must use "would have been". Now, it's clearer.

Not quite right. The pattern is"

Look for the past perfect in the if-clause, and would have in the main clause. (There are similar dependent clauses that express an if-condition, but the if-clause is most frequent.)

Here is an example:

Had Mary taken her umbrella, she would not have got soaking wet.