Twins is a 1988 comedy featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as genetically engineered twins. The fact that they’re genetically engineered is used to explain the differences between Arnold and Danny, but the movie would’ve probably worked as well if they would’ve been regular brothers.

SQB, Science Fiction & Fantasy Meta.

If they would have been is something I would never say. In my dialect, if they had been is the correct choice. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard the if they would’ve been construction from anyone here in the middle of Ireland, or even from anyone on this side of the Atlantic, but it is certainly common online.

I suspect that this is currently a purely American phenomenon, but I could well be wrong about that.

I am not sure what search terms to use to do my own research. The phrase “double conditional” is one I came up with as I asked this question. I’m certain it’s not the standard term used to describe this usage. And most results from a search are about programming languages. However, I did turn up a couple of relevant references.

DEAR GRAMMAR LADY: A prominent scholar made the following statement in a recent article. “If we would regard religion as a work of art — as a piece of music — we would have a different understanding of it.” The “would” in the first clause strikes me as being incorrect usage/phraseology; i.e., I had expected “If we regarded or if we were to regard.” (sic) Could it be that even scholars of great renown are capable of such blatant mistakes?

ANSWER: You are correct. She is guilty of what I call the “double conditional.”

Mary Newton Bruder, The Grammar Lady, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 7, 2000.

I also found one discussion on an English-language forum, but it goes off topic almost immediately.

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    It's apparently a regional usage in the U.S.; many of us in the U.S. think it's wrong as well. Jul 10, 2014 at 20:24
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    It's got pedigree (not later than 1611) and is not unAuthorised: 1 Corinthians 11:31 King James Version 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. Perhaps your question should be 'When did it become common to undouble the conditional?'? Jul 10, 2014 at 20:45
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    These are really two different phenomena there. The second example, the one with the scholar, is not in all cases forbidden, including here, and the newspaper columnist made the wrong call. As for the earlier example at the top of your posting, well, I’m as baffled as you are.
    – tchrist
    Jul 11, 2014 at 0:17
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    As the author of the quoted example, I'd like to note that I'm not a native speaker and that my English is neither British nor American, but rather a horrible mess/mesh of both. My spell checker is set to UK, though. And for the record, I have no problem with this quote being used as an example.
    – SQB
    Jul 11, 2014 at 6:21
  • Thanks, @SQB. This question has been brewing for a while; yours was simply the most recent example in my mind when I came to post it.
    – TRiG
    Jul 11, 2014 at 7:41

1 Answer 1


It's the result of incorrect transcriptions of spoken English,
coupled with the usual anxious cluelessness about grammar.

What somebody meant for you to hear was

  • they'd been regular brothers

pronounced, as many people do, with an epenthetic shwa to keep the /d/ and /b/ separate:
i.e, /'ðedbɪn/ becomes /'ðedəbɪn/.

However, /'ðedəbɪn/ is also a contraction for they would have been, and since this is writing
instead of real language, other conventions, many random, take over, and this gets recognized
as something that's potentially "subjunctive", possibly even "conditional", because it

  1. talks about a situation that's not only hypothetical, but also contrary to fact,
  2. sounds (or looks, if it's been transcribed) like it contains the modal would.

Since everybody's been taught weird shit about "subjunctive" in school, and nobody really understands it (not terribly surprising, because there isn't any in English, but their teachers were taught differently, so there they are), the general strategy that people rely on (rather like the "formal" use of whom) is to use a lot of would's and should's and could's, with have's sprinkled in, just in case, whenever an event in the past is detected.

  • 1
    I do at least now know that "...if they had have been regular brothers" doesn't exactly cut the mustard in terms of formal grammar. But I can't do anything about the fact that on those rare occasions when the contracted 'd is actually expanded, had sounds more "familiar" to me than would. Jul 10, 2014 at 21:24
  • I was worried about the disparity between John's answer and mine (in a comment). Typically, the OP is ambiguous. The sentence 'If we would regard religion ...' is light years away from 'If they would have been regular brothers ...' . This is by no means the first time an OP has introduced a different question from that in or implied by the title. I've added scare quotes. But this doesn't warn of the two different forms of 'double conditional' coming. And I'd like to know if Grammar Lady outranks say Pope Pullum. Jul 10, 2014 at 21:50
  • @Edwin: "Double Conditional" is, as noted, a nonce form, not a real description. Since there isn't a "conditional" in English, there can't be a "double conditional", because there's nothing to "double". The OP (or Grammar Lady) may be referring to the fact that if can introduce a hypothetical clause, and that would is often erroneously called "the conditional mood" in English. As for rank, you pays your attention and you takes your choice. Jul 11, 2014 at 14:54
  • @John Lawler Yes, but whether we slap the term 'double conditional' , 'redundantly modalised' or 'over-emphasising the hypothetical nature of what follows' on these constructions, I'd say that 'If they would have been brothers' is ungrammatical (except in a contrived sentence indicating volition) whereas 'If we would regard religion as a work of art ...' is not. Jul 11, 2014 at 19:25

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