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Occasionally I've seen the construct:

If I would [verb], I would [verb].

... used, to indicate that the second clause is a condition of the first. For example,

If I would go there, I would be in trouble.

The way I would usually express this is:

If I [subjunctive-verb], I would [verb].

So for example:

If I went there, I would be in trouble.

Is the former correct, or in common usage among native English speakers anywhere?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

No, the pattern used among English native speakers is as you say:

If I [past tense], I would [infinitive]

Because of native language influence on second language speakers, you may sometimes see "would" in both parts of the sentence, but it's not native usage.

N.B. This doesn't mean that "if I" is never followed by "would" ever ever in English (there seems to be some confusion about this given the corpus examples cited by @kiamlaluno), just that it generally isn't in this particular pattern with the intended meaning. Clearly you can construct other grammatical sentences of English, involving different structures/uses of "would", which do contain the sequence "if I would". ("Every time he asked if I would be able to help, I had to decline.")

(On a theoretical note, I am one of those that would avoid the idea of calling the past tense a "subjunctive" here: it's far from clear that English has a subjunctive paradigm.)

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Wouldn't you want past tense conditional? Like "If I were to go there, I would be in trouble." –  CaseyB Jul 14 '11 at 17:06
Past tense and subjective mood are two different things. You can use both the simple past or the past of the subjunctive mood, with if, and they have two different meanings. –  kiamlaluno Jul 14 '11 at 17:13
Right. "If I went-INDICATIVE there" and "If I went-SUBJUNCTIVE there" are clearly and reliably distinguished by native speakers, just as "Si iba" and "Si fuera" are in Spanish. –  Neil Coffey Jul 14 '11 at 18:05
I just read Deirdre McCloskey's "Economical Writing" and came across the sentence "If economists would read Jane Austen or George Orwell [...] they would improve." While this is not how I would express myself it is certainly not non-native usage: McCloskey is not only a native speaker; she is a Distinguished Professor of English and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. How can this usage be explained or justified? –  Constantin Mar 12 at 21:04
@Constantin - I think the case you mention is effectively analogous to cases such as "The car won't start", "Will you marry me?" where "will" and associated modal forms are used with a meaning close to 'want to', rather than a purely "functional" use. –  Neil Coffey Mar 15 at 1:28

I found an article which might be of interest:

Ishihara, Noriko. 2003. "I Wish I Would Have Known!": The Usage of Would Have in Past Counterfactual If- and Wish-Clauses. Issues in Applied Linguistics 14(1):21-48. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/5wd0w3sz

The author investigates native speakers' perception and use of sentences like "If I would have known, I would have told you," which are widely considered to be wrong but which are produced nonetheless. There is an extensive study of how the topic is treated in grammar books and ESL material, as well as examples of these formations in literature and dialect.

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"If I went there, I would be in trouble" does work, but it's not the subjunctive.
Try "If I were to go there, I would be in trouble" instead - or "Were I to go there...", although that particular formation sounds a bit stilted and old-fashioned now.

"Would" doesn't work as the conditional part (the "if" part, as opposed to the "then" part) of a counterfactual; you need a subjunctive (or as @Neil pointed out, a past tense) verb there instead.

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In the sentences you reported, would is not normally used with the verb that is preceded by if. Sentences like the following one are an exception:

She asked if I would go with her at the summer festival organized in her town.

You should use

  • the simple present, as in "If it rains, we will stay home."
  • the subjunctive mood, as in "If I were rich, I would live on Long Island."
  • the past perfect, as in "If she had known that, she would have decided differently."

The difference between "if I were," and "if it rains" is that in the first case it is indicated an imaginary or hypothetical condition (I am not rich, and I will not go to live on Long Island), while in the second case the sentence reporting a fact (we effectively stay home when it rains).

Looking at the Corpus of Contemporary American English I found these sentences, though. (I put between brackets the context in which the sentence is found.)

If I would have read more in high school, I don't think I would feel so overwhelmed by all of the reading here. [academic]
If I would give twice the value of land I could not get an acre of it, the domestic manufacturers are so fond of land that there is no such thing as getting any without great favour; if a man dies who has some, his relations immediately get it among them. [academic]
Probably if I would have had my eyes opened, I would have realized it was going to happen. [academic]
If I would have went out there, I would have been right in the middle of this stuff thats going on right now with the bong. [spoken]
They would go to the two Masses if I would play bridge with them afterward. [magazine]

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The corpus examples aren't really comparing like with like, though: they're conditional perfect/habitual past, which do present other patterns, but aren't the case being asked about. For "would have went", I would be inclined to say this is a performance error (and ungrammatical). –  Neil Coffey Jul 14 '11 at 19:03

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