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Past Unreal Situations  1

Analyzing events with hypotheticals

Concorde Crash Debris

 

 

 

 

 

Concorde Accident

In July 2000, Air France's safest aircraft —the supersonic Concorde— crashed causing many to speculate about what might have caused the accident.  Speculation ranged from a flock of birds, to a bad repair job, to the intake of runway debris by one or both of the failed engines. Most experts agreed, "We can guess that a tire or several tires on the landing gear exploded."

  At week's end, the French Transport Ministry announced, "From the information available at the present time, it seems that at least one tire burst, something that could have triggered a chain of events, damage to the aircraft's structure, a fire and engine failure."

"Air France Flight 4590" Wikipedia  

burst (v.) – explode, break open or apart

chain of events – related or linked, one thing causes the next

crash (n.) – collision (esp. cars, trains, boats)

debris (n.)  – a piece of something that has fallen or broken off another jet

explode (v.) – burst, rupture, break open or apart

flock (n.) – quantifier for a group of birds

range (v.) – vary from X to Y to Z

speculate (v.) – guess; speculation (n.) – the process of guessing, inferring

supersonic (adj.) – capable of speed greater than the speed of sound waves through air  (SST Supersonic Transport)

tire (US-Eng)  tyre (Br-Eng)

trigger (v.) – anything, as an act or event, that starts a series of reactions.

 

 

 

Hypothetical past statements are not factual— the statement in the if-clause did not occur.
A person uses a conditional statement:

  1. "to step into the past"
  2. to view a situation from a different perspective (side)
  3. to explore alternative (other) actions or solutions

 

Analysis by posing alternative actions

HYPOTHETICAL PAST CONDITION

The if-clause expresses a past hypothetical condition. The speaker imagines a different action, a solution, to achieve a better outcome or to avoid a bad outcome. The if-clause includes past perfect.

#1 POOR INSPECTION OF JET

If the Air France maintenance crew had done a thorough inspection of the aircraft,

If the Continental maintenance crew had not hurried to complete their inspection of the aircraft,  

# 2 FAILURE TO REMOVE DEBRIS FROM RUNWAY

If the runway crew had cleared the strip of metal from the runway,  

If the runway crew had done a preflight inspection of the runway,

#3 TIRE FAILURE

If one of the tires hadn't exploded,  

If the engine had held up

#4 ENGINE FIRE

If both engines hadn't caught fire,  

If the wing hadn't started melting,

HYPOTHETICAL PAST EFFECT

The effect-clause states a hypothetical result, a better or different outcome than the actual (true) outcome. The effect-clause includes a modalwould have, could have, might have + a participle.

#1 OUTCOME OF BETTER INSPECTION

they would have checked the tires, landing gear and fuel lines in engine no. 2 more carefully.

they would have noticed a loose strip of metal on the aircraft.

# 2 OUTCOME OF REMOVAL OF DEBRIS FROM RUNWAY

it wouldn't have struck the wheels of the Concorde.

they might have cleared the way for Flight 4590.

#3 OUTCOME OF TIRES HOLDING UP

the tire pieces wouldn't have gone into an engine air intake.

it wouldn't have shot out pieces that damaged fuel tank no. 2.

#4 OUTCOME OF ENGINE UNDAMAGED

the pilot would have had enough speed to take off and return for an emergency landing.

the pilot could have made an emergency landing.

explode (v.) – to burst into small pieces

hold up (v.) – stay whole, undamaged

hypothetical (adj.) – based on a situation that is not real, but that might happen

inspection (n.) – a careful viewing, . to examine closely, esp for faults or errors

landing gear (n.) – the wheel system under an aircraft

melt (v.) – become liquid, dissolve (ice melts to water)

thorough (adj.) – very complete

strip (n.) – a long piece, a long, narrow shape

struck (v.) – past tense form of strike; hit

 

 

 

 

 

Past Unreal Conditional (Hypothetical)

Analysis of fortunate actions

 

 

 

Analysis through hypothetical opposites

HYPOTHETICAL PAST CONDITION

A past hypothetical may also express good fortune by pointing out a disastrous outcome for an opposite (negative) action taken in the if-clause.

#1 PILOT'S QUICK THINKING

If the pilot hadn't made a sharp right turn at the end of the runway,  (he did make the turn)

# 2 TIME OF DAY

If the accident hadn't occurred in daytime  (it did)

# 3 GROUNDING OF ALL SST

If the authorities hadn't grounded all SSTs  (they did)

HYPOTHETICAL PAST EFFECT

By  pointing out a disastrous outcome under different circumstances, the speaker expresses good fortune or satisfaction with the (true) action that was taken.

#1 DISASTER AVOIDED

he would have crashed into a neighborhood of homes.

# 2 DISASTER AVOIDED

more people might have been killed inside the hotel that was struck at the end of the runway.

# 3 DISASTER AVOIDED

more aircraft could have gone down due to the same design problems.

 

avoid (v.) – keep away from, get around, stop from happening
disaster (n.) – a terrible, horrible event causing great loss
SST – supersonic transport aircraft like the Concorde

 

 

 

 

Past Unreal Conditional (Hypothetical)

Other Expressions

 

 

 

If, Even if, Only if, Otherwise, Or Else

THE CONDITION

If, even, if, only if joins a condition-clause to an effect-clause. Note that the effect-clause mentions a bad outcome that was avoided.

IF –  a condition  

If the pilot hadn't made a sharp right turn at the end of the runway,

he would have crashed into a neighborhood (of homes).

EVEN IF –  no condition  

Even if the pilots had shut down the fuel tank on engine 2,

there still would have been enough escaped fuel to cause the explosion.  

ONLY IF –  one unique condition  

Only if the pilots had avoided the runway debris,

could they have avoided the accident.  (Auxiliary is placed before the subject.)

THE EFFECT

If not, otherwise, or else express alternative effects. That is, an imagined result that did not happen.

  IF NOT

The pilot made a sharp right turn at the end of the runway. 

If not, he would have crashed into a neighborhood (of homes).  

  OTHERWISE – if not

There were no birds in the area. 

Otherwise, they could have been a possible cause of engine failure. 

  OR ELSE – if not

The French Transport Ministry grounded all Concordes,

or else Air France would have continued flying its Concordes.

 

escaped fuel – gas that leaked out of the tank that contains fuel
failure (n.) – something that fails, is old, in bad condition or is produced imperfectly
Also see Indeed / Even, If / Unless.

 

 

 

 

Past Unreal Conditional (Hypothetical)

Punctuation

 

 

 

INITIAL CLAUSE POSITION  

use commasWhen the if-clause comes before the result clause, a comma separates the clauses.

If they had done their jobs well the accident wouldn't have happened.

If the tire had not exploded, the engine would not have caught fire.
 

 FINAL CLAUSE POSITION

no commaWhen the if-clause comes after the result clause, no comma separates the clauses.

The accident wouldn't have happened if they had done their jobs well.

The engine would not have caught fire if the tire had not exploded. 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Unreal Conditional (Hypothetical)

Sentence Types

 

 

 

IF CLAUSE EFFECT CLAUSE
STATEMENT  

If they had  checked,

they could have made repairs.

 

the problem would have been found. (passive)

NEGATIVE  

If they had  checked,

they wouldn't have let the jet leave the hangar.   

If they hadn't been in a hurry,

they would have kept the jet in the hangar.

IF CLAUSE EFFECT CLAUSE
QUESTION  

If they had  checked,

would they have seen the problems?

Had they checked,

 

TAG QUESTION  

If they had  checked,

they would have seen the problems, wouldn't they have?

Had they checked,

they could have made repairs, couldn't they have?

 

 hangar – aircraft garage

See Grammar Notes for diagrams.

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

ERROR SOLUTION

If the pilot hadn't flew the jet down like a glider, it would of crashed into Manhattan.

Solution - lightbulbPop-Q "Hudson

If the pilot hadn't flown the jet down like a glider, it would have crashed into Manhattan.

(1) Use the participle form of the verb:  fly – flew – flown.
(2) Use have not of , which sounds similar, but is incorrect.
 

We would have given him a ride if he would have asked us. (not incorrect, but awkward)

He would have given them a ride if they had asked him.

The modal form is used in the effect clause, but avoided in the if-clause because it is repetitive.

 

If she would be alive, she would have been delighted to see her new grandchild.

If she had been alive, she would have been delighted to see her new grandchild. (Would is not usually used in both clauses. Here, it sounds more like a request to "be alive".)

 

If he hadn't stopped in the nick of time, we would of been toast.

If he hadn't stopped in the nick of time, we would have been toast.

in the nick of time (expression) – at the last possible moment before
we would have been toast (expression) – burned, seriously hurt

 

 

 

 

Practice

What Caused the Accident?

concorde crash

 

 

Read for Errors

As Air Frances Flight 4590 left the gate an hour late, a series of unfortunate events were already unfolding. To begin, the aircraft had been overloaded by approximately one ton (907kg). Then, the flight before it lost a titanium strip of metal, which fell on the runway. A mechanic had not secured the strip of metal properly, and the runway workers had not completed the required preflight inspection of the runway. 

As Flight 4590 took off, it struck the piece of metal, which burst a tire. Pieces of the tire hit the underside of the aircraft which ruptured fuel tank #5. When the fuel tank caught fire it shorted the electric cables which retract the landing gear.  The aircraft could not gain enough speed even though it still had three engines. The fire continued to melt the port (left) wing, which caused the aircraft to roll, lose altitude and crash into a nearby airport hotel.

 

adverse condition – a situation that poses difficulty

approximately (adj.) – about, near

altitude (n.) – height above sea level

burst (v.) – exploded

electric cables (n.) – electrical wires or very strong rope made of metal wire

gain (v.) – increase, get, acquire

gate (n. – the place in an airport building where people enter an aircraft

landing gear (n.) – the wheel system under an aircraft

melt (v.) – change something from a solid to a liquid (as with ice → water)

overloaded (adj.) – having too much weight put within

preflight (adj.) – before an aircraft departs

reveal (v.) – show, make clear, make public

retract (v.) – pull back in, a cat can retract its claws

rupture (v.) – burst, break open

secure (v.) – make tight, not loose

short (v.) – cause an electrical arc, a failure (stop working)

strip (n.) – a long piece, a long, narrow shape

struck (v.) – past tense form of strike; hit

tank (n.) – a large container for transporting liquids, esp., gas, fuel

titanium (n.) a light-weight, strong metal;  Ti atomic no. 22

unfold (v.) – (open flat) develop, progress

 

 

 

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Click the "check all" button at the bottom of the practice to reveal the answers after you finish, or
    c lick the individual "check" buttons #1-10 to compare responses as you go.

 

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