Contrary to Fact Conditionals

Contrary-to-Fact Conditionals

Summary of Construction

“In a statement of a supposition impliedly false, the imperfect and pluperfect subjunctive are used in both protasis and apodosis. The imperfect refers to present time, the pluperfect to past.” (AG, 517)

(imperfect subjunctive) → (imperfect subjunctive) [present contrary-to-fact]

(pluperfect subjunctive) → (pluperfect subjunctive) [past contrary-to-fact]

Basic Variants


  • If he were living, you would hear his words: sī vīveret, verba eius audirētis.
  • If he were of same mind, would he have dared to lead out the army? hīc sī mentis esset suae, ausus esset ēdūcere exercitum?


  • Unless you had lost it, I should not have recovered it: nisi tū āmisissēs, numquam recēpissem.

Indicative Constructions

The indicative may appear in the apodosis of contrary-to-fact conditionals “to express what was intended, or likely, or already begun.” (AG, 517b)

  • These are rare conditionals: very rare with present and infrequent with past constructions.

(imperfect subjunctive) → (imperfect indicative)

  • If it were allowed, the mothers were coming: sī licitum esset, mātrēs veniēbant.

(pluperfect subjunctive) → (pluperfect or perfect indicative)

  • If you had not prevented me, I had almost finished: nī mē arcuissēs, sum paene perfectus.

Indicative constructions are somewhat more common with impersonal verbs and the second periphrastic.

(Note: in the first construction, the apodosis precedes the protasis.)

  • He could not have become a sage, if he had not been born: nōn potuit fierī sapiēns, nisi nātus esset.
  • If he were a private citizen, he ought to be appointed: sī prīvātus esste, is erat dēligendus.

Mixed Constructions

Mixed contrary-to-fact conditions will offer mixed references to time and succession.

In these constructions, pluperfect actions are prior to imperfect actions.

(pluperfect subjunctive) → (imperfect subjunctive) + (pluperfect subjunctive)

  • If my judgment had prevailed, you would this day be a beggar, and the republic would not have lost so many leaders: sī meum cōnsilium valuisset, tū hodiē egērēs, rēs pūblicaque nōn tot ducēs āmissiset.

(imperfect indicative) → (pluperfect subjunctive)

  • I was just reaching a place of safety, had not the fierce people attacked me: iam tūta tenēbam, nī gēns crūdēlis ferrō invāsisset.

Indirect Discourse

Follow these steps to convert contrary-to-fact conditionals into indirect discourse.

  • The protasis always retains its tense.
  • The apodosis, if active, takes the infinitive fuisse with the future active participle.
  • The apodosis, if passive, takes the periphrasis futūrum fuisse ut with the imperfect subjunctive.
  • Indicatives become perfect infinitives.

Examples of Indirect Discourse

(imperfect subjunctive) → (future active participle + fuisse) [active]

  • Let Asia think of this, that no disaster would not be hers, if she were not held by this rule: illud Asia cōgitet, nūllum ā sē calamitātem āfutūram fuisse, sī hōc imperiō nōn tenērētur.

(imperfect subjunctive) → (futūrum fuisse ut + imperfect subjunctive) [passive]

  • They thought that unless reports of victory had been brought, the town would have been lost: nisi nūntiī dē victōriā essent allātī, exīstimābant futūrum fuisse utī oppidum āmitterētur.

Other Constructions

The future active participle with eram or fui may replace an imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive in the apodosis of the contrary-to-fact conditionals.

  • They would have abandoned their fields, if he had not sent them a letter: relicitūrī agrōs erant, nisi ad eōs literrās mīsisset.

The present subjunctive appears in both protasis and apodosis of poetic contrary-to-fact conditionals.

  • If his companion had not warned him, he would have rushed on: nī comes admoneat, inruat.

The Essential AG: 517a

Famous Phrase: sī tacuissēs, philosophus mansissēs (if you had remained silent, you would have remained wise)

[i.e. chatter reveals stupidity; attributed to Boethius]




One comment on “Contrary to Fact Conditionals

  1. I’ve always been a little shaky on the types of Latin conditionals, but this is an excellent summary. Thanks for posting it here! I might use it with my Latin tutoring students.

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