conditional subjunctives

Peter Richardson prichard at LINFIELD.EDU
Thu Feb 17 17:02:32 UTC 2000

On Thu, 17 Feb 2000, Anne Lambert wrote:

> For the past several years, I have been noticing (primarily on TV
> programs, especially the defunct Rescue 911, which is a gold mine of
> American colloquial speech) the use of an unnecessary conditional
> subjunctive construction with "would have": "if she wouldn't have helped
> me, I would have been dead" instead of "if she hadn't..."  Have any of
> you noticed this?
This is pretty well addressed in the style manuals, I think, and you can
bet your boots that it wouldn't have been addressed had a "problem" not
been perceived. The big no-no is the use of "would" in an if-clause, when
it "should" be used only in a result clause. But the "rule" is violated
all the time and is thus unlikely to be of great interest to the denizens
of this list. For what it's worth, German speakers do the very same thing,
using "would" in the if-clause in casual speech; as one proceeds up the
ladder of formal speech and writing, the "would" tends to disappear in

Peter Richardson

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