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二分遅れて着いていたら列車に乗り遅れるところだった。
If I had arrived two minutes later, I would have just missed the train.

I'm struggling to understand why this sentence uses 乗り遅れる rather than 乗り遅れた. At the time when I am two minutes late, I have already missed the train. The action of 乗り遅れる is already complete, so I would have expected 乗り遅れた.

I would have translated this as "I would have been just about to miss the train", suggesting that maybe the train left 3 minutes late.

Is my understanding of verb+ところ wrong? Does the counterfactual scenario maybe change how the grammar works? Or are both 乗り遅れる and 乗り遅れた acceptable here?

Edit

I've looked at the linked answer and this more recent post but still I remain rather confused. Here's another attempt to explain my confusion.

If I consider just

列車に乗り遅れるところだった

If I'm not mistaken it means

I was just about to miss the train

That is to say, I had not yet missed the train at the time being discussed. But somehow, adding 二分遅れて着いていたら in front changes things so that, in the hypothetical situation, I have already missed the train.

If the answer is simply "that's just the way it is" then that's fine. But I'd like to be sure I'm not missing some logical explanation.

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  • @aguijonazo Thanks for the link, but I'm afraid it's a little too complicated for me. I wonder if the answer to my question is in your statement: "Conceptually speaking, adding ところだった at the end of each Japanese sentence would be like adding “The situation would have been such that …” at the beginning of its English translation and back-shifting the sentence inside the clause". Unfortunately, I cannot grasp what 'back-shifting" means. Please see my edit which may clarify my particular confusion. Thanks. Dec 30 '21 at 9:55
  • Edited. Back-shifting simply refers to something English grammar required me to do to what I put in the subordinate that-clause when the tense of the main clause was “would have been,” as opposed to “would be.” It has nothing to do with Japanese.
    – aguijonazo
    Dec 30 '21 at 11:25
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With or without the hypothetical condition, or whether in the real world or in an alternative one that didn’t happen, there is a time at which you are still facing the risk of missing your train in that scenario. I think you can simply understand 乗り遅れところ as referring to a situation seen from that standpoint.

You could use a past form putting yourself at a later point in the hypothetical scenario where you have already missed the train. However, 乗り遅れていたところ is much more natural than 乗り遅れところ when you talk about a counterfactual event. 乗り遅れところ is normally understood as meaning you have really just missed the train. 乗り遅れていたところ puts focus on the (undesirable) resulting state of the event, rather than the event itself.

二分遅れて着いていたら列車に乗り遅れていたところだった。

This sentence sounds a bit redundant, or simply longer than necessary, to me, though. I would probably use the present tense in the main clause.

二分遅れて着いていたら列車に乗り遅れていたところ

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  • In other words, the translation in the question is inaccurate, right? It should've been "[...] I would have been on the verge of missing the train"?
    – Simon
    Dec 30 '21 at 17:35
  • @Simon - I meant that with or without the conditional clause, the main part describes the same situation. If you have to be strictly logical, it might look like you are switching between two parallel worlds but in practice I don’t think the distinction you are trying to make is important. Either way, you were going to miss the train but finally managed to catch it, and two minutes made the difference.
    – aguijonazo
    Dec 31 '21 at 0:45
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You understand it just right, but here it is just the way it works: 〜る+ところだった.

I think, you cannot use 〜た+ところ in this case.

I see it as "I was standing just there(ところ), about to do something but happily I didn't".

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