In the following examples of using past conditional in Portuguese:

Se tivesses embarcado com o Vasco da Gama para Índia, ías ver...

Se eu soubesse que havia un temporal tinha atravessado a ponte mesmo a pé.

only one part of the conditional phrase uses mais-que-perfeito, whereas the other uses pretérito imperfeito. Assimil then notes that the seeming violation of the seeming violation of the time agreement (see sequence of tenses) is quite normal for Portuguese:

Mais le portugais exige seulement que l'un des verbes marque le temps. (But the Portuguese requires only one of the verbs to show the tense.)

Is such liberty in using tenses a general feature of Portuguese or are there finer rules governing the use of tenses in complex sentences? Doesn't it introduce ambiguities when a (long) sentence starts in one tense, but then suddenly moves deeper into to the past? Are there examples of exploiting such confusions (e.g., in witticisms or idioms)?

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    Does this answer your question? Or this?
    – tchrist
    Oct 30, 2022 at 15:03
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    It's true that Portuguese is on the lax side with the usage of indicative/subjunctive and tenses. Your sentences are not really ambiguous, though. I don't see how they can be interpreted other than referring to some counterfactual in the past. If you wrote "se soubesse que havia um temporal, atravessava a pé", that can be interpreted in the same way ("nesse dia, se soubesse..."), or instead as referring to a factual pattern of behavior in the past though ("sempre que sabia que havia...")
    – Artefacto
    Oct 31, 2022 at 0:53
  • @tchrist thank you for the links! This is indeed the kind of information that I was looking for. Oct 31, 2022 at 7:04
  • Se eu soubesse que havia un temporal, teria atravessado a ponte a pé. I would not accept tinha there.
    – Lambie
    Oct 31, 2022 at 18:28
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    @Lambie the examples are from an Assimil text in French, so it naturally makes parallels with French. The problem here is that there are two verbs marking different tenses - an impossible situation in French. Nov 2, 2022 at 7:04


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