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Is "would" used correctly in these sentences?

  1. I would not be surprised if you would lose.

  2. I would not give you the weapon if you would use it to harm others.

  • It's generally wise to avoid using the same word twice in a sentence like that, because it often sounds a bit weird. But there's nothing inherently wrong with it from a syntax standpoint. (Though the first is a bit on the margin -- would be better as "... if you were to lose.") – Hot Licks Dec 1 '14 at 3:35
  • Thanks! Are you saying that we should avoid using "would" twice in a sentence just for the sake of style? – user99620 Dec 1 '14 at 3:41
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    Yes, but "take it with a grain of salt". You certainly may use articles and conjunctions multiple times in a sentence, and sometimes you might want to reuse other words. It's hard to come up with anything resembling a "rule", especially since this is a style issue and not one of syntax. – Hot Licks Dec 1 '14 at 3:46
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    In standard English, the first is wrong. The second is fine. The guidelines are that you can only use "would" in an "if" clause if "would" indicates intent, but not if it indicates possibility (that's expressed badly; hopefully somebody will say it better in a real answer). However, there are some regional dialects in the U.S. that regularly use "would" as in the first sentence, and a number of additional people scattered across the U.S. who probably learned it from one of these dialects. – Peter Shor Dec 1 '14 at 3:59
  • I wouldn't say that that is wrong. – Jim Reynolds Dec 1 '14 at 4:44
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It is acceptable grammatically to use the word "would" multiple times in a sentence, but the first example you provided might best be revised to invoke what is referred to as the "subjunctive mood" or sometimes "subjunctive mode."

The word "would" occurs after the word "if" in the dependent clause of your sentence, and because there is the element of possibility in the actions of others implied in the sentence, the first example sentence would probably best be revised as indicated below:

  • I would not be surprised if you would lose.
  • Revision: I would not be surprised were you to lose.

Because there is some element of uncertainty in the matter (the "if" in the sentence suggesting the person's losing versus winning), it is not appropriate to use the word "would" in this sense. In other words, the effects of something (presumably a the outcome of a match or a court trial) on the indirect object ("you," in this case) of this sentence are yet undetermined at the time of the utterance.

The second sentence you provided is a better example of "would" in a sentence, however as written, the sentence is a bit clunky and confusing:

  • I would not give you the weapon if you would use it to harm others.
  • Revision: I would not have given you the weapon if I thought you would [might, were going to] use it to harm others.

The second instance of the word "would" (even in the revision I suggest above) seems to be out of place for the same reason that the first example sentence does: the consideration that the person might use the weapon to harm others is speculative, and the reality of their using it to harm others is yet undetermined.

There are plenty of good examples of when one might use the word "would" multiple times in a sentence, however it is best not to use the subjunctive form of the verb "to be" (which in most cases is "were" or "be") in order to express uncertainty of actions that have yet to occur.

Too Long; Didn't Read

Yes, it is acceptable to use the word "would" multiple times in a sentence, but given your examples, there are reasons against using it such as to avoid ambiguity. The subjunctive mood allows a speaker to concisely "express various states of unreality," particularly in dependent or subordinate clauses of sentences.

  • I'm not a native speaker, but I was taught, that "would" never comes after the if. So I would go with "I would not be surprised if you lost." – Christoph Jun 29 '15 at 14:13

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