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Untergang
Posted: Monday, November 13, 2017 4:29:16 AM
Rank: Member

Joined: 7/10/2016
Posts: 68
Neurons: 3,671
Respected teachers and helpers,

I am currently reading the "Island" by Richard Laymon. It is written in the first person perspective and in past tense. It's basically a diary of a castaway. There is a night scene where the male protagonist is in a jungle clearing with captive women in cages. He makes a small flame with a lighter but the captives are afraid that it will be seen from the nearby house where the captors are living. Between the clearing and the house there is a strip of jungle. The flame eventually goes away and the protagonist crawls through the jungle to watch the house. He waits to see if the captors noticed the light. The diary goes like this:

"If the foliage wasn't really thick the light might've been visible from the mansion."

I don't understand this sentence completely. Is this conditional? If so why doesn't he say "If the foliage had not been really thick"?
Or is he using simple past to show that the foliage was not so thick in some places than others (and maybe the captors were looking at a sparser spot)?
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Monday, November 13, 2017 4:51:41 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/12/2011
Posts: 27,115
Neurons: 149,215
Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
Your choice "If the foliage had not been really thick. . ." would be OK. It is definitely not wrong.

The difference (the only difference I feel between the two) is that the original stresses slightly a continuation to the present.

"If the foliage had not been really thick" = "If, at that point in the past when I made the light, the foliage was not thick. . ."

"If the foliage wasn't really thick" = "If, at that point in the past and up to present time, the foliage was not thick. . ."

It makes very little difference in this case. (In some stories, it may make a lot of difference!)

**********
EDITED to add:
I only answered one question.

Yes, it is a conditional.
It gives a possible (hypothetical) past result - "the light might've been visible from the mansion" - based on a possible past continuous condition - "If the foliage wasn't really thick".

It is possibly deceptive, as it is the verb 'was" - the verb 'to be' - which is very rarely written in the continuous aspect. The simple present and simple past are used.
You would not write "The foliage was being thick . . ."


Wyrd bið ful aræd - bull!
Untergang
Posted: Monday, November 13, 2017 7:00:43 AM
Rank: Member

Joined: 7/10/2016
Posts: 68
Neurons: 3,671
Thank you very much for the detailed explanation!
IMcRout
Posted: Monday, November 13, 2017 9:09:54 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 5/27/2011
Posts: 34,191
Neurons: 485,898
Location: Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
I think the subjunctive form ('If the foliage weren't really thick ...') would have been the better solution, when our castaway realizes that the thickness of the foliage has probably protected them.

But what do castaways know about grammar? Whistle

I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger. (Anon)
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