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This has been bugging me for some time; I tried to look for previous questions here but my language tools may not be sharp enough to phrase my query correctly so please forgive me if this has already been posted here.

Speakers of English as a foreign language tend to incorrectly use the word "would" when using some particular subjunctive constructs. Here is one example (this time presumably by a native English speaker):

If that would happen, you won’t be alone.

(One correct version being "If that happens, you won't be alone".) I have detected this in speakers of a number of languages so I feel this is more likely to be a feature of the English language itself than a carry-over from their native language.

I have a faint intuition that this is because the English subjunctive is not very distinctive, and it certainly doesn't help that a number of correct forms do have subunits like that, but I can neither make that precise nor even really phrase a concrete question. Can someone shed some light on this?


Edit: just to provide some real-world examples of what I mean, here is one example taken from this page:

Publish or Perish is designed to empower individual academics to present their case for research impact to its best advantage. We would be concerned if it would be used for academic staff evaluation purposes in a mechanistic way.

This is obviously ungrammatical (to me), but I'm not sure how to characterize the mistake, or what the likely causes are (e.g. whether it follows from analogous constructions in other languages).

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  • The only time you can have would in the if-part and will in the then-part is when it is actually talking about volition/permission: “If you would please hand me your keys, I will move and lock your car for you.” These are all just modals, not actual subjunctive inflections like “If it were that easy, every would do it.”
    – tchrist
    Aug 11, 2013 at 0:15

1 Answer 1

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Practical English Usage, which is a pedagogic grammar for English learners, states:

Conditional would is sometimes used in both clauses of an if-sentence. This is very informal, and is not usually written. It is common in spoken American English.

  • It would be good if we'd get some rain.
  • How would we feel if this would happen to our family.

Your original sentence (If that would happen, you won’t be alone) combines would in the if-clause and future with will in the main clause, which is ungrammatical.

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    It's perhaps worth adding that 'would' is not a subjunctive form, the OP seems to think. Aug 11, 2013 at 9:41
  • Thanks, Barrie. It is important that the OP learn to correctly identify the subjunctive. Were it not for my lack of time, I would append an explanation to my answer.
    – Shoe
    Aug 11, 2013 at 10:07

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