Problems with tenses (future vs. past)

[color=blue]Hi, I really feel sorry I can’t help but quote this long passage for my question.

“The takeoff is no different than that of a normal airplane on a runway,” says Zubrin. “But once the oxygen is loaded, the plane goes to an altitude of 128 kilometers at 2 G’s (two gravities). There will be several minutes of weightlessness before re-entry, so passengers can float around the cabin. The view from the window will be like looking out of the shuttle- a black starry sky and a wide view of the Earth.”
After floating for a few minutes, you would start back down, again, at 2 G’s acceleration - similar to the gravitational force you feel descending on a big roller coaster. After re-entering the atmosphere, the plane would glide like the shuttle. As you [color=red]approached your destination, the pilot would start the jet engines, and land the craft like any other airplane. But this flight [color=red]wouldn’t have taken ten long (ususally boring) hours.

[color=blue]Above is part of a reading passage titled “Here comes the rocketplanes”
What confuses me is those two red-marked expressions.
My question is…
First, why “approached”? in the context where it refers to some possibilities that could happen in the future? - seems to me there’s no reason to use past tense.

Second is about “wouldn’t have taken”, (also the matter of tense!).
Does it refer to something that could have occurred in the past like “If there had not been your help, I wouldn’t have succeeded.”? - or does the author mean something that will complete in the future, like “by the end of May, it will have taken a total of 20 weeks”.

Too long questions but what do you think?

Hi babyblue

The first paragraph is a direct quote. Basically in the format of simple present (facts) and prediction as found in Conditional Type 1.

The second paragraph is no longer a direct quote, and uses Type 2 conditional format. That explains approached (even though “as” is used instead of “if”). It’s not a real situation, it’s only theoretical.

The wouldn’t have taken is a Type 3 conditional (impossible situation). In other words:
If you had made this flight, it wouldn’t have taken the usual 10 hours.


Thanks a lot, Amy.
Now I understand most of what you said, and still there’s something that remains unsolved to me.

You said that “wouldn’t have taken” is a Type 3 conditional (impossible situation). In other words:
If you had made this flight, it wouldn’t have taken the usual 10 hours.

I think your example sentence reads as “Since you didn’t make this flight, it took 10 hours as usual.” ,which shows us it is based on a fact that you already experienced the ten hours, and you thought it was boring,and so on.

but all through the context, from the start to its conclusion as well as the part I asked you about, the story was all about the future of rocketplanes, without any description on the hours experienced in our ‘old fashioned’ travel in contrast to the dream planes. In conclusion, I still don’t understand why the author in the story added such a sentence all of a sudden. It doesn’t seem consistent at all!

Now I’d like to suggest the sentence “But this flight wouldn’t have taken ten long (usually boring) hours” should be changed to “But this flight wouldn’t take ten long (usually boring) hours”. - that’s because Type 2 conditional is based on present or future reality, not past.
Please tell me how it sounds to you.

Hi baby blue

I think it’s important to look at the style of the whole text.

In paragraph 1 the author quotes Zubrin (perhaps he’s the inventor) and Zubrin describes what flight “will be like for passengers” in general. He predicts a general future that he sees or wants to be presented as quite probable.

In Paragraph 2, the author is no longer quoting Zubrin. The author begins talking directly to the reader, specifically talking to you, and describes one (!!!) specific flight that you could theoretically take in the future. He takes you on just one imaginary flight. Basically he describes: If you took this flight, this is what would happen. The author wants to personalize one theoretical flight for you, so he tells you not about “a” flight, but rather this one specific flight that you theoretically take.

Then your theoretical flight on the rocketplane comes to an end. And it is at the end of your flight that the author makes a comparison. He compares the theoretical rocketplane flight that has just ended to what that same flight would have been like on a regular plane. He uses a conditional 3 construction because it is no longer “possible” to make the same theoretical flight on a regular plane. Your imaginary flight was on a rocketplane, not a on regular plane.

Maybe you could look at it this way:
If you had taken your imaginary flight on a regular plane, the flight would have taken 10 hours.
But that wasn’t the case. Your imaginary rocketplane flight is now finished and the rocketplane flight was shorter than a regular flight would have been. (It was shorter because rocketplanes always fly faster than regular planes.)

That’s what I see as the “impossible situation” that calls for the conditional 3 construction: the imaginary flight had already ended.

The author could have used “would take” if he had simply compared all (or every) rocketplane flights in general to all regular flights in general. But that’s not what the author did. His style was to take you on one single theoretical flight.


Hi, Amy.
Let me clear it up once again; the author’s last remark must be meant to read " now, you have arrived at the airport just like on an ordinary plane, but it didn’t take 10 hours."

And since all this situation was by a theory and our imagination, it needs to be written in a subjunctive mood, Type 3.

Do I sound all right?
Anyway, I appreciate all your advice and I was impressed by your attitude and enthusiasm as a native speaker teaching a language.

By the way, do you think the “Type 3” applies to the following sentences?

[color=red]If I had my mountain bike, the entire trip would have taken only about two hours.

By this time next year I would have finished my degree.

Hi babyblue

Yes, I like English (Thank goodness! Because I have to work with it every day. :lol:). But I also have a lot of fun with German and especially the regional dialect here in the part of Germany where I now live.

Why don’t you start a thread in the “New ESL Forum Member” part of the forum and tell us about yourself?

Anyway, regarding your last post:

Yes, that sounds right…

Only the part about how long a flight on a regular plane would have taken is like a Type 3 IF-sentence — because your imaginary flight had ended, and that flight wasn’t a flight on a regular plane.

The rest of Paragraph 2 is basically a lot of “Type 2” IF-sentences, but the “IF” part is understood throughout.
Not specifically written, but nevertheless understood is: “If you went on this flight, …”

Regarding your two sentences:
A “standard” IF-sentence Type 3 would need another “had”:
[color=blue]If I had [color=blue]had my mountain bike, the entire trip would have taken only about two hours.

And it means that you didn’t have your mountain bike and for that reason the trip took longer than two hours.

[color=blue]By this time next year I would have finished my degree.
Using “would have finished” indicates that you will not be finished by this time next year. But you haven’t stated why not, and there is no way to “understand” an implied condition without further context. So, the sentence sounds incomplete.

Let’s change things a little and add some context with an IF:
If I hadn’t missed three semesters of classes, I would have been able to finish my degree by this time next year. Now I won’t be finished until June 2007 at the earliest.

Now it’s clear why the originally expected time for getting your degree isn’t possible anymore.

Otherwise, if what you actually wanted to say was:
next year at this = degree already finished”,
then you need will instead of would in your original sentence:

By this time next year I will have finished my degree.
That is not a conditional sentence. That’s simply the future perfect.


Yes, Amy…
Regarding “By this time next year, I would have finished my degree”, I’d just like to know what difference it will make if we use “would” instead of “will”. And you have made yourself understood in your reply.

How earnest…, doing your best! (even though my irritating question attacks :smiley: )

Thank you again, and I’m starting to be afraid I might not be welcomed here next time…

Hi babyblue

Your questions weren’t irritating at all.
Quite the opposite. :smiley: