April 19, 2013

Contrafactual Sentences

A contrafactual sentence contains a hypothetical statement that is presumed to be false.

Usually, these sentences are conditional sentences, but they can be other kinds of sentences too, such as wishes which contain a contrafactual subordinate clause.

For instance, in English, one could say “If I had arrived just one minute earlier then I would not have missed the train”.

In this sentence, the condition is false; the implication is that the person did not arrive one minute earlier.

This sentence can be translated into Hindi as follows:

अगर मैं सिर्फ़ एक मिनट पहले पहुंच जाता तो मेरा ट्रेन नहीं छूट जाती

Fortunately, contrafactual sentences in Hindi are much simpler than contrafactual sentences in English. Hindi uses the “contrafactual subjunctive” for all contrafactual sentences. In the previous example, the verbs पहुंच जाता and छूट जाती are both contrafactual subjunctive verbs.

There are two basic forms of the contrafactual subjunctive: the simple contrafactual subjunctive, and the complex contrafactual subjunctive.

The simple contrafactual subjunctive has the same form as the imperfective participle. For compound verbs, only the second verb assumes the contrafactual subjunctive form.

अगर मैं अमीर होता तो मैं काम नहीं करता – “If I were rich, then I would not work”

होता is the contrafactual subjunctive form of होना, and करता is the contrafactual subjunctive form of करना.

Contrafactual subjunctive verbs do not have any specific tense. The tense is determined by the context. For instance, the previous example could also be translated as “If I had been rich, then I would not have worked”. However, a verb may include था to explicitly designate the past tense, but this is somewhat uncommon and nonstandard.

Contrafactual subjunctive verbs inflect according to the gender and number of their subject.

Simple contrafactual subjunctive verbs do not exhibit ergative alignment. Complex contrafactual subjunctive verbs do exhibit ergative alignment.

Complex contrafactual subjunctive verbs are formed by changing the final auxiliary of a verb form to a contrafactual subjunctive. This typically means using a form of होता.

For instance:

अगर पंखा चल रहा होता तो इतनी गरमी नहीं लगती – “If the fan were running then it wouldn’t feel so hot”

The verb form चल रहा है was converted to चल रहा होता.

In other words, complex contrafactual subjunctives are nothing more than an aspectual component and a simple contrafactual subjunctive form of होना:

[aspectual component] [simple contrafactual subjunctive form of होना]

Here are a few examples of complex contrafactual subjunctive verb forms:

कर रहा हैकर रहा होता
करता है
करता होता
किया है
किया होता

Complex contrafactual verbs can appear in continuous, perfect, or habitual verb forms.


I wouldn’t do that If I were you – अगर मैं आप की जगह होता तो मैं ऐसा नहीं करता

I wish that this moment could last forever – काश कि यह पल हमेशा के लिए रह सकता

If I had not stayed up so late watching the movie then I wouldn’t be so tired – अगर मैं इतने देर तक मूवी देखते हुए नहीं जागता तो मैं इतना नींद में नहीं होता

If I wanted advice, then I would have asked for it – यदि मुझे सलाह चाहिए होती तो मैं मांगता

I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I had never met you – मैं यह कल्पना कर ही नहीं पता कि अगर मैं तुमसे नहीं मिलता तो मेरी ज़िंदगी कैसी होती

If I hadn’t worked so hard, then I wouldn’t have succeeded – अगर मैं इतना मेहनत नहीं करता तो मैं सफ़ल नहीं होता

If you had asked me, then I would have said ‘yes’ – अगर तुमने मुझे पूछा होता तो मैनेहांबोला होता

What would you do if you didn’t have to work? – अगर तुम्हें काम करना नहीं पड़ता तो तुम क्या करते?

I wish that we could spend more time here – काश कि हम यहाँ और समय बिता सकते

I wish that I hadn’t wasted so much time watching t.v. today – काश कि मैने ती.वी. देखने में इतना समय नहीं गवाया होता

I would spend all of my time reading if it were possible – अगर संभव होता तो मैं किताबें पढ़ने में अपना सारा समय बिताता

If I had known then what I know now, I would have made a different decision – यदि मुझे वो तब पता होता जो मुझे अब पता है तो मैने अलग निश्चय किया होता

Even if I had worked all night long I still would not have been able to finish my work – अगर मैने रात भर काम किया होता तो भी मैं अपना काम पूरा नहीं कर पाता

If I were a wealthy man, I wouldn’t have to work hard – अगर मैं अमीर आदमी होता तो मुझे मेहनत करने की ज़रूरत नहीं होती

I would have gone to see the movie with you, but I had to study last night – मैं तुम्हारे साथ मूवी देखने जाता, लेकिन मुझे पढ़ना था

I might have gone if I knew you would cook food! – मुझे पता होता कि तुम खाना बनाओगी तो मैं शायद जाता

I would have helped you if I knew you needed help – अगर मुझे पता होता कि तुम्हें मदद चाहिए थी तो मैं तुम्हारी मदद करता

If I had money, I would buy another car – अगर मेरे पास पैसा होता तो मैं दूसरी गाड़ी खरीदता.

If I were in India, I would go to Kerala – अगर मैं भारत में होता तो मैं केरला जाता

I would have studied art, but my grandfather wanted me to study science – मैं कला पढ़ता लेकिन मेरे दादा जी चाहते थे कि मैं विज्ञान पढूं

I wish that I’d started learning Hindi long ago! – काश कि मैं बहुत समय पूर्व से हिन्दी सीखने लगता

I would have played with you all, but my arm was injured – मैं तुम लोगों के साथ खेलता लेकिन मेरे हाथ को/में चोट लगी थी

If you hadn’t studied science, which other subject would you have studied? – अगर तुमने विज्ञान नहीं पढ़ा होता तो कौन सा दूसरा विषय पढ़ा होता?

What would have happened if you hadn’t saved me! – अगर आप मुझे नहीं बचाते तो क्या होते!

I’d help you if I were able – अगर मैं आपकी मदद कर सकता तो मैं आपकी मदद करता

If learning another language were easy, then it wouldn’t be necessary to practice – अगर दूसरी भाषा सीखना आसान होता तो हमें अभ्यास करने की कोई ज़रूरत नहीं होती!

  • Hi David, thank you for so good article. I have just a few questions:

    1) here may be a mistake – in the example ‘If I had stayed up so late watching the movie..’ may be it should be ‘If I had NOT stayed up so late watching the movie..’?

    2) and this is not so much clear for me: in ‘अगर तुमने मुझे पूछा होता तो मैने‘हां‘ बोला होता’ what will be the difference in sence if we just write ‘अगर तुमने मुझे पूछता तो मैने‘हां‘ बोलता’ ?

    Does the first sentence literally mean ‘If you had had to ask me, then I would have had to answer yes’?

    • Hi, Kateryna! I’m glad that you like this article.

      1) You’re right, I meant to write “not” in that sentence, thanks!

      2) The “simple” subjunctive (e.g. पूछता, बोलता) and the “complex” subjunctive (e.g. पूछा होता, बोला होता) are just two different options. By “simple” I just mean “one word”, and by “complex” I just mean “more than one word”. The simple subjunctive is more common. They have the same meaning in the example you gave. You can substitute one for the other. The difference is their aspect. The “simple” subjunctive is “non-aspectual” (i.e., it is neutral – it doesn’t emphasize any aspect such as continuous, perfect/completed, habitual, etc.). The “complex” subjunctive has a particular aspect, such as continuous, perfect, or habitual. Remember that the simple subjunctive never uses ने, and the complex subjunctive uses ने (only if the verb requires ने, all of the same rules apply). So, the sentence would be “अगर तुम मुझे पूछता तो मैं ‘हां‘ बोलता”.

      If you want to be more explicit, you can use the “complex” form, but the “simple” form is actually the most common. I used the complex form simply because I wanted to say “If you had asked me…”, and so the perfect aspect fit well (“have asked” in the indicative, “had asked” in the subjunctive), but it wasn’t necessary.

      In other words, the difference is their emphasis.

      This makes it much easier than English. English uses a variety of subtle forms in different contexts (“were”, “had”, “would”, etc.)

      The sentence “If you had had to ask me, then I would have had to answer yes” implies compulsion. For this, we need one of Hindi’s “compulsion idioms”, such as: “अगर तुम्हें मुझे पूछना पड़ता तो मुझे ‘हाँ’ बोलना पड़ता”.

      • Thank you so much, I understood this!

      • Ravi Chandrasekhara


        I really enjoy your blog. My question is when to use simple contrafactual versus complex contrafactual habitual ? From the discussion, meaning is similar except the aspect.

        • Hi! Thank you! That’s a great question. In my experience, Hindi speakers prefer the simple contrafactual, perhaps because it is more concise and simple. You’re right, the complex forms lend an explicit emphasis, e.g. “अगर हम जब बाहर गए थे तब बारिश हो रही होती तो हमें रुकना पड़ता” – “if it had been raining when we went outside then we would have had to wait”.

  • Hey David, I have a few questions regarding “काश”, as I have never heard it before. First of all, is it popular in spoken Hindi?Second, how exactly is it used? When starting a sentence with “काश कि” does it necessarily refer to the first person singular? How would you say in Hindi “You wish” or “X wishes…”?

    Many thanks in advance 🙂

    • Hi, Dorothea! Good questions. Yes, this idiom is common in spoken Hindi. I’ve heard many friends and family members use this idiom, and I’ve heard it in movies, etc. The कि is optional. It requires the subjunctive mood. If the sentence is contrafactual, it requires a contrafactual subjunctive verb, e.g. “काश कि मैं अमीर होता”. Otherwise, it requires a “regular” subjunctive verb, e.g. “काश मेरा वजन थोड़ा बढ़ जाए” (“I wish my weight would increase a little”). In other words, if you wishing that something weren’t true, use the contrafactual verb, but if you are wishing that something would become true, use the “regular” subjunctive verb. There might be other distinctions, but I haven’t thought about it. The person of the verb depends on the subject of the sentence. It can be in any person, first, second, or third. It is very much like the English idiom “O that …” or “Would that …”, for instance, “O that I were a rich man!”. This idiom is somewhat antiquated in English, however. To say “wish” we can use काश or चाहना. For instance: “मैं चाहता हूं कि मैं आपको बता सकूं कि मैं इस क्षण में कितना ख़ुश हूं” (“I wish I could tell you how happy I am in this moment”). You can use any pronoun: तुम चाहते हो…, वे चाहते हैं…, etc. There are other words too, such as इच्छा (“desire”): उसने अपनी अमेरिका आने की इच्छा जताई (“She expressed her desire to come to America”). This is a broad topic, so maybe I’ll write about it later. चाहना is pretty versatile, and encompasses both “want” and “wish”. Does this make sense?

      • Makes perfect sense. Thanks a ton for the detailed explanation! As much as I understood (and googled) “काश” seems to be the Hindi version of the Urdu/Persian إن شاء الل (=if only; God willing…). Though, I think the religious aspect in “काश” has slightly shifted in the background.

  • ram keishna

    Hello teacher

    Really , your all articles for learning english are so wonderful. I have read some topics and found a great help for me.
    I couldnt understand most of the tjing in english. But by reading ur article, most of the doubts have been cleared.
    I found your blog link on google.

    Thank you soooooo much for all your efforts and help.

    Good luck.
    Keep it up