Shortly after I joined the RSRP community a few years ago, I started to notice a really bizarre phenomenon that I've never seen anywhere else start spreading through the population like a plague. Years later, people still do it. The thing I'm talking about is people misusing the conditional tense: a part of language that we use to describe a hypothetical future that can be affected by the outcome of certain events or whether a certain condition is met. Some of you might think of it as the "would" tense.

How, Why, and When Do We Use It?

It makes perfect sense that this strange habit would crop up among us if anyone, largely because we put a lot of pressure on each other to not "auto." There are a lot of places in our roleplaying where the conditional tense really is valid, because rather than performing an action, we have trained each other to pose some actions to our fellow roleplayers conditionally, making it clear that those actions can be intercepted or may not happen at all if the stars aren't aligned.

The issue is that a number of people don't stop using the conditional tense when it stops making sense. They use it almost constantly in their active narration. I'm sure a number of players don't care a great deal about grammatical accuracy, and that's fine, but for those who do, it's good to be aware of what you're doing. The conditional tense is only appropriate when the success of an action or event you are describing is dependant on certain conditions. While the sentences you form are syntactically correct, it isn't really grammatically correct to use the conditional tense for an action or description of the present that is going to be true no matter what anyone else does.


Correct Examples

One correct way to use the conditional tense in the context of our roleplaying styles is:

*John Doe walked by Fred. He checked around quickly and, if he didn't see anyone looking, John would make an attempt to stab Fred in the spleen.*

John performs three actions in this example. He walks by Fred, he checks to see if anyone is looking, and he might attempt to stab Fred. The first two actions, walking and checking, are in the present tense because John is going to do them irregardless of the things around him. The stab attempt, however, is posed in the conditional tense because whether or not John actually goes through with it depends on something external. If someone were to respond by saying that a character is clearly looking directly at John, his action would be nullified because the condition wasn't met.

Another correct way to use the conditional tense is more direct:

*John Doe would stab Fred.*

In this example, the narrator is attempting to have John stab Fred, and because he used the conditional tense, it is implied that the end of the sentence is "if nothing stops him." So, John Doe would stab Fred so long as no conditions arise which would prevent the action. The sentence "John Doe would stab Fred" should not be confused with "John Doe stabs Fred." The latter sentence is an auto (unless, of course, there is nothing around that could possibly, realistically stop him), but the conditional structure of the former sentence allows for interception.

Incorrect Examples

One way I have seen RS roleplayers use the conditional tense which is almost never correct is:

*Jane would have blond hair, icy blue eyes, and plush lips colored fire engine red.*

Physical appearances are fairly permanent, and how someone looks at any given moment is a factual, constant state. There is no external force that can change how she already looks at the moment of description; there is no condition upon which its truth is dependant. A person may be able to change her appearance moments later (for example, wipe her lipstick off), but as of the moment of the description, nothing could feasibly affect it. The only circumstance under which this sentence needs to be conditional is if the narrator actually is speaking about a hypothetical future: "If she were to let Fabio give her a make over, the next day Jane would have blond hair, icy blue eyes, and plush lips colored fire engine red." 

Additionally, some uses are technically correct, but unnecessary:

*Jane would remove her lipstick from her purse and would apply it to her lips.*

Yes, technically the implied end of the sentence, "if nothing stops her," still holds true and accurate in this case. Someone could race up from nowhere and steal her lipstick or someone could verbally object, but in most cases this is very unlikely. Typically, with actions like this, nobody is interested enough, offended enough, or overall cares enough to do anything about it. As a result, using the conditional tense may not be grammatically incorrect, but really just isn't necessary - it's sort of anal. So, unless you're in one of those few extenuating circumstances where you imminently expect someone to stop your character from doing a normally run-of-the-mill action, just stick to the present tense.

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