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Something feels wrong about this grammatical construction. What is it?
July 31, 2014 8:58 AM   Subscribe

The contraction for "would have" is "would've". And yet, if I am writing that "If I have a doctor's appointment at 3pm, I would have to leave at 2pm to be there on time", I don't think I would write "would've to leave at 2pm". That doesn't feel right, but I don't know why. MeFi grammarians?
posted by John Borrowman to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're certainly right, but it doesn't seem that unusual. You wouldn't say "You've to go to the doctor." In fact, in your own example, though you might be able to make a case for an archaic use, you also wouldn't say "If I've a doctor's appointment..." I think contractions aren't just contractions of two words, but two words in a specific context or contexts. I'm not sure exactly what that rule is called, but a contraction is more than a shortening thing.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:02 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


You would only contract "would've" when it is helping a different verb:
would've gone
would've said
would've noticed

In this case, "have" is the key verb, as you're talking about something you have to (i.e. "are required to") do.
posted by dywypi at 9:02 AM on July 31 [24 favorites]


I'm not a grammar expert, but I think "would've" is only acceptable if it's in the past tense:

"If I didn't have the foresight to reschedule my doctor's appointment, I would've had to leave at 2 PM, and I couldn't've done that because I had a meeting at work that ran until 2:30."

However, your example is in the future tense:

"If I were to make a doctor's appointment at 3 PM, I would have to leave at 2:00 to be there on time."

This could acceptably be contracted to:

"If I were to make a doctor's appointment at 3 PM, I'd have to leave at 2:00 to be there on time."
posted by tckma at 9:02 AM on July 31 [5 favorites]


"Would have" refers to a missed opportunity, and it's paired with a past tense verb...I would have liked to do x, I would have tried to do y if I had known. In your example, "have" doesn't refer to a missed opportunity.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:03 AM on July 31


Agreed that context is the key. You can't replace a pair of words with a contraction simply because the two words are sitting next to each other. Consider the sentence "It is.", which might be the answer to "Is Paris the capital of France?". You wouldn't have replied "It's." You wouldn't contract "I don't know who he is" to "I don't know who he's" either.
posted by pipeski at 9:05 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


The more natural contraction is "I'd have to leave..." or if you're late already "I would've had to leave..." I believe this is because "have to" is a meaningful phrase here, denoting that you're talking about the *necessity* of when to leave.
posted by ethidda at 9:05 AM on July 31


We usually use "would've" in the past tense of the subjunctive mood.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:05 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


"Have" has this weird form in which is basically replaces the word "need."

"I have to go to the store" = "I need to go to the store."

It's a completely different form from when it's used as an indicator of time or past actions. The latter works as a contraction, the former doesn't.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:06 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


I think dywypi has it.
posted by Decani at 9:10 AM on July 31


"If I have a doctor's appointment at 3pm, I would have to leave at 2pm to be there on time"

I think that it should be "will" instead of "would."

"If I have a doctor's appointment at 3pm, I'll have to leave at 2pm to be there on time."

The first part of the sentence is in first conditional tense, since it's referring to the future using an if-clause. The second part of the sentence should therefore be in the imperative tense, which uses "will."

You could also change the sentence so it's in "2nd conditional," which refers to a missed opportunity (i.e., "If I had.../then I would...").

*I'm not a grammar superstar myself, but have taught some TOEFL prep and other informal ELL stuff. Here's a link that might be useful.
posted by rue72 at 9:10 AM on July 31


dywypi is right: The contraction only happens when have is an auxiliary verb, not when it is the main verb.
posted by Thing at 9:10 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


Thanks all, very much.
posted by John Borrowman at 9:16 AM on July 31


Actually, the contraction seems to happen when have is a main verb, if straight onto a pronoun, "I've an idea!"
posted by Thing at 9:17 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


I like this description of the situation:



'Would have' is a past conditional auxiliary verb phrase, and most or all main verbs can join with it:

He would have been late if he hadn't caught that train.
I would have met you at the station if I'd known you were coming
They would have seen us if they had been watching TV.

When 'would have' stands alone, 'have' is the main verb, and 'would' is a present conditional auxiliary verb:

I would have a sandwich if you want to make me one.
She would have a good time if she comes to the party.

posted by Decani at 9:18 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


...and the point being that "would've" should only be used in the first case.
posted by Decani at 9:19 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


The reason you don't contract have when it is the main verb is because you need that stress to show it's the main verb.
posted by Dragonness at 9:30 AM on July 31


Thank you dywypi for the clear explanation. Ask MeFi rocks.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:48 AM on July 31


> Actually, the contraction seems to happen when have is a main verb, if straight onto a pronoun, "I've an idea!"

That's a UK usage; (most) Americans don't say that.
posted by languagehat at 10:16 AM on July 31


You're certainly right, but it doesn't seem that unusual. You wouldn't say "You've to go to the doctor." In fact, in your own example, though you might be able to make a case for an archaic use, you also wouldn't say "If I've a doctor's appointment…"

My mother in law might easily say "You've" and "I've" in both situations-not always, but often enough, at least 50% of the time. "You've to the doctor" sounds more like something she would say, to my ear. She is in her mid-sixties, was born in Fife, Scotland, lived for a year or two on the Isle of Wight at five or six years old, then moved to Ontario through middle school, and has lived in Central Ohio from the start of high school through, well…this morning. (They're moving to join us in Seattle).

I don't know any Ohioans who would use that construction (or anyone else who I know well for that matter), so I assume it would be from one of the prior places. She's a retired attorney and an excellent living room Scrabble player; I'll have to ask her about it in the context of this thread. Her mother, who I knew slightly, would also use this construction if I recall correctly, so presumably it has dialect roots in Scotland.
posted by Kwine at 10:27 AM on July 31


That's a UK usage; (most) Americans don't say that.

I did think it was dialectal, but also that it was widespread enough not to be overly marked.
posted by Thing at 10:32 AM on July 31


This discussion on the Reddit linguistics forum has some interesting points about contractions especially when they are and are not (or is that aren't?) used, and particularly a link to this interesting paper that might have some bearing on your question: The key point of interest to you from the discussion & paper: "'Contracted' negations in English are not 'simple clitics' (i.e., phonologically reduced full words), but rather inflected verb forms."

In answer to your specific question, the words "I would have" in the phrases "I would have to leave" and "I would have gone" happen to use the same three words but actually are grammatically speaking two different things.
posted by flug at 11:05 AM on July 31 [4 favorites]


Yeah, "would've" is a verb tense of "would." (Google tells me it's the "present conditional tense.") In "would have to," the word "have" isn't part of the verb tense. You're using "have" to say that you need to/have to/must leave at a certain time.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:48 AM on July 31


Not to derail, but in this construction, with first person (I/we), isn't 'would' incorrect? I was taught (in England) that here 'I should have...' (or possibly 'should've') is required. Strictly: 'I would...' = 'I should like".
posted by TristanPK at 2:26 PM on July 31


I was taught (in England) that here 'I should have...' (or possibly 'should've') is required.

US English doesn't do that.
posted by nangar at 3:26 PM on July 31


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