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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7 comments for “Mistake: If I would have…

  1. [email protected]
    20 April 2014 at 3:58 pm

    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 9:18 pm

      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 5:41 am

    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 am

      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 am

    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 6:19 pm

      “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 9:30 pm

        thank you

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