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December 5, 2007 10:10 AM   Subscribe

GrammarFilter: Is the sentence “If I were ______, I would have done _____” grammatically incorrect? If so, why?

This is a grammar question.

Is a sentence that begins with “If I/you/she were” and ends with “I would have done __________” grammatically incorrect? I’ve assumed that a sentence that begins with the (subjunctive?) “If I were” has to be paired with a (conditional?) phrase such as “this would happen” and that a sentence which ends with a phrase like “would have” has to be paired with a phrase like “If I had been.” Under that scheme, these sentences should read like this:

"If I were ______, I would do (this, that and the other thing)."

"If I had been ______, I would have done (this, that and the other thing)."

Is this assumption correct? While I’m on the topic, what verb tenses am I using in the latter example (“would have” and “If I had been”) and how can I explain this rule to people who are not grammar geeks?

Many thanks in advance. Happy Holidays!
posted by jason's_planet to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
"Subjunctive" is the verb tense.
posted by cmiller at 10:15 AM on December 5, 2007


The subjunctive is a mood, not a tense.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:19 AM on December 5, 2007


Yes, that's grammatically correct.

And while we're on the subject, what's the verdict on sentences like "If I would have done X, then I would have done Y"? That construction really only needs "would have" on the second half of the sentence, right?
posted by emelenjr at 10:40 AM on December 5, 2007


That reminds me of the phrase "would have". I know it's acceptable to say stuff like "I would have had to have had surgery." But how many of these can you string together?

"I would have had to have had to have had to have had..."

Kinda like "I know", in a way. "I know that you know that he knew that she knew that you knew... etc."

/tangent
posted by Rhaomi at 10:44 AM on December 5, 2007


It is grammatically incorrect to include "would" in the same clause as "if." So emelenjr's example ought to read, "If I were to have done X, then I would have done Y."
posted by junkbox at 10:45 AM on December 5, 2007


In English grammar, the "would have" is called a conditional verb form. Check out this page if you want to be enlightened or confused by the array of "if" sentences.

Tense in grammar refers to time... we have past, present, and future tenses. The subjunctive, as ludwig_van pointed out, is a mood. Take a look here for examples of the various moods and tenses.
posted by wryly at 10:48 AM on December 5, 2007 [1 favorite]



And while we're on the subject, what's the verdict on sentences like "If I would have done X, then I would have done Y"?


If I had done X, I would have done Y.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 10:51 AM on December 5, 2007


The correctness of "were...would have" vs. "had been...would have" depends on the content of the statement in question. "Were" is the present subjunctive, so you would use it to describe a possibility that applies to the present. "Had been" is the past, or pluperfect, subjunctive, so you would use it to describe a possibility that applies to the past.

Examples of correct ways in which you might use these both:

"If I were rich, I would have bought a mansion instead of this little house." ("were" because you are describing a condition that presumably still applies)

"If I had been aware of his other two girlfriends, I never would have accepted that third date." ("had been" because the condition has changed and does not apply to the present)
posted by zadermatermorts at 11:14 AM on December 5, 2007


Hmm, re the above, I seem to have gotten the nomenclature wrong ("past"/"present" subjunctive; grammarians are weird), but the idea is the same. See wiki for more detail.
posted by zadermatermorts at 11:23 AM on December 5, 2007


It is grammatically incorrect to include "would" in the same clause as "if." So emelenjr's example ought to read, "If I were to have done X, then I would have done Y."
posted by junkbox at 10:45 AM on December 5


Except when you are making a request..."If you wouldn't mind..."

Or when speaking about the past, where you contradict what actually happened..."If I wouldn't have gone, I ..." ("If I were not to have gone..." is a bit clunky and doesn't seem to be used in everyday speech).

Syntactic constructions can get very complicated to pick apart really friggin' fast. We've got lots of cans open already. Jason, you're on the right track, and wryly and zadermatermorts has got it.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:27 AM on December 5, 2007


It's grammatically and logically correct. The subjunctive puts you in their shoes, so the subsequent conditional form is not inconsistent. Now if you would please turn off that music, I'll get on with my work.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:02 PM on December 5, 2007


I had a hunch I was correct about that. Hearing people use that construction always grates on me. "If only he would have slowed down, he would have avoided that crash."
posted by emelenjr at 12:07 PM on December 5, 2007


"If I were rich, I would have bought a mansion instead of this little house." ("were" because you are describing a condition that presumably still applies)

Or rather a condition that does not and did not apply. That is to say, "Were" because you are describing a contrary to fact condition. Least ways, that's what I was taught.

The "If I would have" or "I wish I would have" instead of "If I had" or "I wish I had" always drives me up the wall, which no doubt makes me a stinky prescriptivist. I expect that fight was lost years ago.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:35 PM on December 5, 2007


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