I am discussing with a friend (over email) the pros and cons of various interview styles. At some point in the email I write:

"Ideally the candidate will demonstrate X."

Then in the next sentence I want to describe, by comparison, what action by the candidate would not be ideal. I was initially tempted to write:

"What would be bad would be if the candidate did Y"

but the bold-text "would be" sounds wrong as used here. Instead, I feel I should write something like:

What would be bad is if the candidate did Y"

because I'm saying that [the action that would be bad] = Y, as opposed to [the action that would be bad] would be Y. In other words, I know that the action Y would be bad.

Neither phrase sounds perfect though. I would appreciate any explanation of a 'correct' phrasing! Also I am from the UK, but living in the US, so I am interested in usage in each place (if there is a difference). Finally, I apologize if I have mis-tagged this question - it seems to me to be a question about use of either the conditional tense or the subjunctive mood, but this could be wrong.

  • 2
    Is is correct, and you explain very well why. Perhaps it sounds odd because it is crammed in between two counterfactual clauses? Just use is, I would say. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 17:37
  • @Cerberus What is 'correct' I have no idea about. But I would certainly stick with the first suggestion. It seems to me that those two tenses need to agree. What would be bad is... seems a mismatched expression.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 18:23
  • @WS2: Seems, but isn't! Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 17:59
  • @Cerberus I tend to agree with Peter Shor.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 18:36
  • There is a prior before we get to grammar. You are, in relation to negative features, warning against particular behaviours that would disqualify a candidate. That will not help you or the applicants. You might even include 'don'ts' that put off otherwise good candidates. The 'do's' and 'don'ts' are for careers guides to provide. If an applicant is opinionated or prejudiced, or has not bothered to research your company or even read the blurb you have sent, you want them to show you, not avoid it.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 16:50

2 Answers 2


You should say:

It would be bad if the candidate did Y.

If you start out with "What would be bad would be" or "What would be bad is", it needs to be followed by a noun phrase, and you have a if clause which doesn't work that well as a noun phrase, although I think it's marginally acceptable. You could say:

What would be bad would be the candidate doing Y.

However, this is awkward because it's not parallel to the first sentence.

  • A to-infinitival clause can be predicative complement. "His intention was for the meeting to begin at six" is fine.
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 19:18
  • I have to disagree: what would be bad is the candidate doing Y. The logical statement is is a fact; it does not operate in the same plane as the hypothetical content of the arguments what would be bad and the candidate doing U. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 18:01

I'd prefer either of these:

What would be bad would be for the candidate to do Y, where the infinitival for clause is predicative complement in its specifying sense.

What would be bad was if the candidate were to do Y, where preterite "was" has a modal, rather than past time meaning.

The fused relative "what would be bad" can be paraphrased as "the thing which would be bad".

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