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I know that the subjunctive uses past tense, but does that mean there's no way to distinguish the following sentences?

I would say hello, if he were home.

and

I would have said hello, if he were home.

The first means that the speaker is willing to say hello, if the person is home. The second one means the speaker had the opportunity to say hello previously, but the person wasn't home.

The distinction may not seem significant, but the two sentences mean something entirely different.

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    How this question relates to the Russian language? – Dmitry Nov 5 '16 at 15:12
  • @Dmitry Both sentences translate the same way in Russian. – casey Nov 5 '16 at 15:16
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    @casey then write them in Russian please, this is Stack related to Russian, one shouldn't guess how exactly you imagine they are translated. – shabunc Nov 7 '16 at 3:42
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As far as I understand, both sentences should normally be translated as "Я бы поздоровался, если бы он был дома". So, they really can't be distinguished without context. If you want unambiguous translation, you can use a construction with будь for the second sentence:

Будь он дома, я бы поздоровался.

This is usually used only in the second case ("the speaker had the opportunity to say hello previously, but the person wasn't home").

And for the first sentence you can just use future tense:

Если он будет дома, я поздороваюсь.

This is not quite accurate, but expresses the main idea ("the speaker is willing to say hello, if the person is home").

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  • How does the construction with будь work with other verbs? – casey Nov 6 '16 at 22:52
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    @casey, the same way: first you take the verb in imperative singular form, then usually add the subject, and then all the rest. For example, "Знай я, что сегодня будет дождь, взял бы с собой зонтик." ("If I knew that it would be raining today, I would take an umbrella."). Note that the verb's form is always singular, even when the subject is in plural form. For example, "Приди наши друзья пораньше, мы бы не опоздали на концерт." ("If our friends came earlier, we wouldn't have been late to the concert.") – Lara Nov 7 '16 at 17:54
  • By the way, it's interesting that the verb's form in this construction is always identical to imperative singular, while the meaning of the sentence is anything but imperative. I don't know why, never thought about it... it seems to be a good question for this site, I'll ask it :) – Lara Nov 7 '16 at 18:08
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I hope I understood your question right.

In the 1st variant ('the speaker is willing to say hello, if the person is home') person can either be or not be at home right now (or in future). So this is a REAL condition. And for real conditions we do not use БЫ. So only one БЫ (for would):

Анна, ты не знаешь, Игорь сейчас дома? Я бы поздоровался с ним, если он (сейчас) дома.

In the 2d one the person wasn't home at some point in the past, and it can't be changed now. So this condition is not real and we use БЫ in both parts.

Я бы поздоровался с ним, если бы он был (вчера, час назад и т.п.) дома.

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    I wasn't aware that бы could be used in one part of a sentence and not the other. Good answer! – casey Nov 6 '16 at 13:48
  • Good answer! I thought that "the speaker is willing to say hello, if the person is home" means hypothetical condition (like "If I were you, I'd say hello."). But if you mean real condition, than this answer is correct. – Lara Nov 6 '16 at 16:08
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  1. I would say hello, if he were home.

By the form of it, it belongs to Future Unreal Conditionals [He's not home, so I won't say hello] http://www.englishpage.com/conditional/futureconditional.html

(similar example there: I would buy that computer tomorrow if it were cheaper.)

Будь он дома, я бы (сейчас пошёл и) поздоровался с ним.

[Его нет дома, так что я с ним не поздороваюсь]

  1. I would have said hello, if he were homе.

It's a Mixed (Present/Past) Unreal Conditional:

http://www.englishpage.com/conditional/mixedconditional.html

(similar example in that source: If I were rich, I would have bought that Ferrari we saw yesterday.)

Будь он дома, я бы с ним (уже) поздоровался.

[Его (до сих пор) нет дома, так что я с ним не поздоровался]

The only difference is in timeline position of imaginary saying hello (before or after time of speaking). Since it is hardly sufficient, the words in brackets (or similar clarifications) in Russian versions are most often omitted.

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Я бы поздоровался, если бы он был дома = first case (as explaining to somebody why you haven't said hello, this is because he was not at home)

Я бы поздоровался, если он дома = second case (as telling his wife that you would like to say hello if he is home)

In the first case, you would say hello if he would be at home (you think he is not/was not).

In the second case, you would say hello if he is home (you do not know).

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  • How do you tell if the first one refers to the present or past though (as in, the speaker had the chance to say hello, but the person definitely was not at home)? – casey Nov 7 '16 at 20:28
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    @casey it is either past or polite-would form for present. If you want underline present, it will be "Я поздороваюсь, если он дома" (I will say hello if he is at home"), without polite-would. – Anixx Nov 7 '16 at 20:42

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