conditional sentence


In the exercise I was asked to complete the conditional sentence with the appropriate form of the verb. My answer was: When I was a child, if you hadn’t had the money for something, you wouldn’t have bought it.
The correct answer: When I was a child, if you didn’t have the money for something, you wouldn’t buy it.

The action of the conditional sentence refers to the past and cannot happen now. Why is Conditional Type 2 used in this case?

***** NOT A TEACHER *****

Hello, Irene:

I do not have the answer. Someone will soon give it to you – and me.

I just wanted you to consider some thoughts.


  1. In a sense, your test sentence is not really a true conditional sentence.

a. It seems to be a so-called universal truth. That is, just a fact.

b. “When I was a child, if you didn’t have the money, you wouldn’t (didn’t?) buy it.”

i. In that sentence, “if” seems to mean something like “when”:

“When I was a child, when you didn’t have the money, you wouldn’t (didn’t?) buy it.”

(But nowadays, you can buy whatever you want on credit!)


  1. “If you had had the money, you would have bought it.” = You did NOT have the money. So you did not buy it.

  2. “If you had not had the money, you would not have bought it.” = But you DID have the money. So you BOUGHT it.


Your answer under the second thought makes things clear. Nevertheless, may I add my two cents from a different angle.

At the outset the question seems to me to be ‘garbled’. The post first speaks about ‘I’ and then about ‘you’. That’s not natural; maybe an inadvertent error. I would change it into:
As a child, if you didn’t have the money to buy something, you couldn’t buy it.
In place of ‘you’ we may use ‘I’ as well.

I would agree with James, except that, as far as I know, it is the Simple Present that is used to talk about universal truths.

The test sentence is used to describe past facts or generalisations which are (usually) no longer true. Therefore, I’d say that the Simple Past throughout the sentence would be correct too, just as James tentatively suggests:

A learner.

The pronoun “you” is used for referring to people in general in the sentence under discussion, wouldn’t you agree?

I suppose you could replace “you” with “one” if you wanted to, but I don’t think that would sound as natural as the original.

(In the days) when I was a child, if people didn’t have the money for something, they wouldn’t (didn’t) buy it.

I would. But I suppose you could replace “you” with “one” or “people” or even ‘we’.

Hello, Anglophile and Cristina:

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I may be (and probably AM) wrong , but I think that it is quite “natural” to say something like:

“When I was a child in the good old days, you never had to lock your doors at night.”


P.S. Of course, the good old days were not that good, but I am discussing grammar, not sociology.

P.P.S. Thanks, Cristina, for pointing out the difference between a universal truth and a generalization.

Thanks, James, for your patience in watching the discussion and intervening, when necessary, with your ‘unimposing’ but convincing response. Each of us looks at the situation differently, after all.

Hello Anglophile,

Yes, but “we” doesn’t seem to be as inclusive as the other alternatives. In other words, “we” seems to refer more to the children of the writer’s / speaker’s childhood, family and close ones, than to people in general.

Just a thought.

Hello James and Irene,

I asked about this aspect in a different thread and --just in case you haven’t happened to see it-- I think you will be interested to read what Alan has to say:
When I was a child… (Past Simple throughout or Past Simple + would)

Yes, I’m in full accord with you, Cristina. Thanks.

Dear Anglophile, James and Cristina, thanks a lot for your help. You made it clear to me.

Not at all, Irene.

Hello, I don’t understand the logic of this reply.

Hello Duet,

Neither do I! :-)))

Here’s the explanation of this idiom from: oxfordlearnersdictionaries.c … #all_2__43
not at all
used as a polite reply to an expression of thanks
‘Thanks very much for your help.’ ‘Not at all, it was a pleasure.’

Thanks, Cristina, for your efforts, though I could not but wonder when I saw you say: Neither do I.

Sorry, Anglophile, I don’t think I understand.

My reply was not grammatically wrong, was it? Because “either / neither” are a bit problematic, aren’t they?

I’m going to look it up in a dictionary right now! :slight_smile:

Neither do I in that context meant that you did not know it, too. I could not imagine a discerning user of English like you to have said so; hence my remark.

I see.

My remark was made half in jest. What I was saying was that I don’t understand the logic of “not at all” (as a reply to an expression of thanks) either. Sure, idioms are not all that logical to begin with --which is also pretty much the reason why they are called “idioms” in the first place-- but the expression in question is more illogical to me than most!

Hope I’m making sense.

(Of course I knew that idiom. I never use it though.)

Then, I was mistaken. I’m sorry.