Mistake: If I would have…

When talking about something that didn’t happen in the past, many English speakers use the conditional perfect (if I would have done) when they should be using the past perfect (if I had done).

For example, you just found out the truth about somebody. Your friend asks why you didn’t share the information yesterday. You explain that you had not known the truth the last time you saw each other. To express this, you can use an if – then clause. The correct way to say this is with the past perfect in the if clause, and the conditional perfect in the then clause:

correct   incorrect
If I had known, [then] I would have told you. If I would have known, I would have told you.

The conditional perfect can only go in the then clause – it is grammatically incorrect to use the conditional perfect in the if clause:

Here are some more examples:

correct   incorrect
If I had gotten paid, we could have traveled together. If I would have gotten paid, we could have traveled together.
If you had asked me, I could have helped you. If you would have asked me, I could have helped you.

The same mistake occurs with the verb wish. You can’t use the conditional perfect when wishing something had happened. Again, you need the past perfect.

correct   incorrect
We wish we had known. We wish we would have known.
Tom wishes you had stayed. Tom wishes you would have stayed.
I wish they had been honest.   I wish they would have been honest.

 
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20 comments for “Mistake: If I would have…

  1. [email protected]
    20 April 2014 at 15:58

    Is this mistake becoming more and more prevalent? Until a few years ago you would never have heard anybody say “If I would”, and now it seems as common as using “me and you” as the subject.

    • lkl
      20 April 2014 at 21:18

      Yes, it seems like certain mistakes are so convincing, for lack of a better word, that other people hear them and make the same mistakes, so more people hear them and are convinced, and they just get more and more common. :-(

  2. ania
    16 May 2014 at 05:41

    Well, if native speakers use it, it not really a mistake, now is it? I’ve been hearing this construction a lot on the show ‘One tree hill’.

    • lkl
      16 May 2014 at 11:45

      Being a native speaker does not mean no mistakes – if that were true, there’d be no need for editors and spell checkers. Lots of Americans say “I seen it” – the fact that English is their native language doesn’t mean that is an acceptable way to say “I saw it.”

  3. nicole
    10 July 2014 at 11:02

    when speaking of something that happened centuries ago, which is correct?

    – they might as well have just done it
    – they might as well had just done it

    • lkl
      10 July 2014 at 18:19

      “they might as well have just done it” is correct.

      Modal verbs are always followed by the base form of the verb, never the past tense.

      • nicole
        10 July 2014 at 21:30

        thank you

  4. 31 January 2015 at 01:38

    i have a question, for example, can i say: if i had known that cookie was yours i wouldnt have eaten? is that correct , i mean the verb after would it has to be in past participle?

    • lkl
      31 January 2015 at 16:40

      Yes, that’s correct – in this construction, you need the past participle: If I had known that cookie was yours, I wouldn’t have eaten it.

  5. Margo
    2 February 2015 at 02:24

    THIS drives me buggy. I hear it ALL the time.

  6. sofia
    8 February 2015 at 16:25

    is it possible to use this form in future tense? like: “if i would have done that next year, it would have been awful” or should it be “if i did that next year, it would be awful” ..or am i just talking nonsense here?

    • lkl
      9 February 2015 at 08:25

      No, you can’t use it in the future (or at any other time, since “if I would have” is always wrong). You can say

      “If I did that next year, it would be awful” – this makes it sound like you probably won’t do it.

      or

      “If I do that next year, it will be awful” – this sounds like you might do it.

  7. Naill
    15 February 2015 at 20:09

    Quick question. I’m wondering which one is correct or more common.
    You would be a genius if you could(or can) use chopsticks at 3.
    (is that ok if I use can in this sentence)
    or should I say
    You would’ve been a genius if you could use chopsticks at 3.

    • lkl
      16 February 2015 at 07:31

      “You would’ve been a genius if you could use chopsticks at 3.”

      • naill
        17 February 2015 at 03:33

        How about
        You would’ve been a genius if you could’ve used chopsticks at 3.
        This probably be a wrong sentence. is it because I can’t use two negative sentence in one sentence. kinda confused..

        • lkl
          20 February 2015 at 08:33

          That sentence is fine. I don’t know what you mean by “I can’t use two negative sentence in one sentence.” There are no negatives in your sentence.

          • bright
            2 April 2015 at 22:38

            Pls help me check this statement if it is correct and even if it is, I need a better way to say it. “You would have told me that you wouldn’t come to see me”. Now “told” is used which is the past tense of “tell”. If someone can say you would have told me. Then can someone also use come in its past tense? Like in “you would have came to see me”. Wow that sounds too awful. I can’t even make a statement like that. Y all these discrepancies in English language

          • lkl
            9 April 2015 at 06:09

            After “would have,” you need the past participle.

            Told is both the past participle and the past tense of tell.

            Came is the past tense, but you need the past participle: come.

            http://www.elearnenglishlanguage.com/blog/learn-english/grammar/verbs-irregular/

  8. Wasim
    11 April 2015 at 08:54

    After 20 or 30 years it will be decided. But there must be rules.

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