conditional subjunctives

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Feb 17 18:23:31 UTC 2000

At 9:02 AM -0800 2/17/00, Peter Richardson wrote:
>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

Like Lynne, I too remember a discussion we had about this, but also one on
a related non-standard counterfactual, viz. the present-for-past:

If she doesn't help me, I'm dead.

I think several of us attested this version especially in sports contexts:

If Malone doesn't take the hard foul there, Shaq dunks it.
(= if M hadn't fouled him, S would have dunked it)

And one more non-standard version:

If she'd @(v) helped him, he would@(v) made it

(where @(v) = 'have' or 'of')

Maybe this menu of replacements for the standard "If X had V..." is
motivated by the more general disappearance of the pluperfect, especially
in colloquial speech.


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