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harbors a desire to . . . if . . . Options
raymondaliasapollyon
Posted: Friday, July 31, 2020 9:57:59 AM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 7/14/2020
Posts: 35
Neurons: 195
Hi,

Is the following sentence correct?

John harbors a desire to kill Peter if he had the opportunity to do so.

I'd appreciate your help.
thar
Posted: Friday, July 31, 2020 10:33:33 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 7/8/2010
Posts: 22,450
Neurons: 90,987
No this is not the tense required after that sort of conditional.


He would kill him if he had the chance.


This is a simple present- a timeless fact.
And
It is not a conditional fact - it sets up the condition.
The desire is always there (hidden, "in the harbour"). The action only happens if the condition is met.

He harbours a desire to kill him.

He will kill him if he gets a chance.
He would kill him if he ever got the chance.
raymondaliasapollyon
Posted: Saturday, August 1, 2020 7:15:07 AM
Rank: Newbie

Joined: 7/14/2020
Posts: 35
Neurons: 195
How about "John harbors a desire to kill Peter should he have the opportunity to do so"?

The should-clause is taken to modify the infinitival phrase.
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Saturday, August 1, 2020 11:23:08 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/12/2011
Posts: 34,223
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Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
It looks OK to me (though I would probably put a comma after "Peter" - I don't know if there's any rule to explain it other than "that's where I pause when I say the sentence).

"Harbours a desire" is definite, it's true, not conditional - so the condition of "having the opportunity" must refer to the infinitive "to kill Peter".

Another (possibly slightly more formal) wording could be:
"John harbors a desire to kill Peter, were he to have the opportunity to do so."

But I'd say "John'd like to kill Peter if he had the chance" - which is very like your ORIGINAL sentence.
I think that the difference is that your original one - "John harbors a desire to kill Peter if he had the opportunity to do so" - uses very formal wording ("harbouring a desire", "having the opportunity" and "to do so") with a very informal construction using "had".

Your later one - "John harbors a desire to kill Peter should he have the opportunity to do so" - uses the formal phrases with the formal subjunctive "should he have".

My offering - "John'd like to kill Peter if he had the chance" - is all informal.

Both the fully formal and the fully informal ones sound OK - it's the mixture which doesn't seem to work.



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