Can someone help?

"Dave killed Peter."

Dave asked Susan, "why was Peter here?"

Susan said, "Maybe he would have told you if you hadn't have killed him."

Would there have been any difference if she had said "Maybe he would have told you if you hadn't killed him"?

According to my understanding, Susan wants to emphasise the fact that Peter would have told Dave why he was here if Dave hadn't killed him first. Right? Meaning, Susan thinks Dave would still kill him anyway, before or after Peter told Dave why he was here.

  • 4
    The only difference is that *hadn't have is ungrammatical.
    – Anonym
    Nov 26, 2015 at 19:12
  • Did you read or hear these sentences somewhere, or did you make them up? If they're not yours, where are they from?
    – herisson
    Nov 26, 2015 at 23:54
  • This is a style that some people use. It is again a sort of rural, non-college-educated dialect that is spoken (by a minority of the population) in areas of the US Midwest. I've learned to essentially ignore the extra "have" in this case, as it serves no syntactical purpose.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 27, 2015 at 21:20
  • thanks guys, it was actually a dialog on a US drama i saw it on the subtitles. I will just ignore the HAVE from now on.
    – Clement
    Nov 30, 2015 at 19:50

5 Answers 5


In his book The Syntactic Phenomena of English, McCawley argues that in a position requiring a non-finite form, a past tense is shifted to perfect "have", and that multiple "have"s are shifted to just a single "have". According to this analysis, in your example "if you hadn't have killed him", there are 3 logical past tenses, "if you Past Past n't Past kill him", the second two get changed to "have": "if you Past have n't have killed him", then the multiple occurrences of "have" are reduced to just one: "if you Past have n't killed him". Then, with the realization of "Past have" as "had", we wind up with "if you hadn't killed him".

It's an interesting and rather intricate analysis. However that may be, in the standard dialect that McCawley describes, you can't wind up with the perfect of a perfect, because one of the two perfect "have"s is lost by an arbitrary adjustment, in order to fit the logic of constructions into the restrictive morphological system of English.


I think your understanding is correct.

I am not sure, but I think the phrase 'hadn't have' is equivalent (in this sentence) to 'hadn't' that I associate with some English dialects.


The original sentence does not follow grammatical rules.

Maybe he would have told you if you hadn't have killed him.

This sentence is presumably trying to use the past perfect tense, but includes an extra "have" which doesn't belong according to Washington State University.

WSU source


For example, Tennessee hilljilly/hillbilly talk or Texan country music, it don't respect no logical grammar if it ain't done nobody no harm.

They have a tendency to create ad hoc non-finite phrases where you normally can't or don't, which are effectively put to good idiomatic use.

In this case, the idiomatic pattern used in non-finite fashion is "have {action done}" - for examples, "have someone killed", "Have the kid put away for good."

Non-finite use is in effect when you put no effort into modifying its tenses or number, but use the phrase unmodified within a set of conversations regardless of the temporal context, the number, or gender of each sentence within the conversation.

  • The hills, they have their own justice. Likewise, she have her own justice. She's the moonshine queen of the hills, the judge, and leader of her jury.
  • She had someone have the kid put to rest for good. If she hadn't have the kid put away for good, he would've destroyed a good portion of her moonshine trails.
  • They have the crack of the dawn, and she have the crack of the dawn to give them.
  • They can have the highest noon even in the dead of the night, and she have the highest noon made every dead of the night.
  • Every moment, another bites her dust. More people bites her dust than she is happier that they bites her dust.

One of the questions motivating this kind of usage is

  • If we can say "She would {have breakfast}",
  • then, why should't we say "She had {have breakfast}" ?

Another question is - why shouldn't we be able to treat {have breakfast} as a non-finite expression?

  • {Have breakfast} is a morning ritual everyone should partake in.
    Rather than,
    {Having breakfast} is a morning ritual everyone should partake in.
  • Why not,
    {Have him killed} is in fact more merciful than {have him tortured}
    rather than,
    {Having him killed} is in fact more merciful than {having him tortured}
  • Why not {bites the dust}, rather than {biting the dust} as the non-finite expression?

Well, should I need to apologize on behalf of the historical development of the English language that active non-finite phrases use the continuous tense, and passive non-finite phrases use the completed tense.

Should I also need to apologize for the various modes of operation of auxiliary verbs that have developed within the English language, that dictate the degree of non-finite use they could accommodate?

  • copula use (is, are, be)
  • expectation (will, would)
  • proposition and imagination (shall, need)
  • etc

I don't really understand what you are asking.

There are several grammatical and punctuation errors in your question.

But there is essentially no difference between saying ...if you hadn't have killed him and ...if you hadn't killed him.

Both are grammatical.

The whole question of the validity of had have + past participle is excellently addressed in an answer by Shoe at this OP.

  • 1
    The first one seems non-standard to me. Do you have a source that says that it is grammatical in standard language?
    – herisson
    Nov 27, 2015 at 0:05
  • 1
    @sumelic "had not have killed him" certainly seems wrong, but I might not blink with "hadn't have," and "hadn't've" sounds fine. Nov 27, 2015 at 4:25
  • 1
    I feel like some people may distinguish between "hadn't of" and "hadn't have." So I'm not totally sure it can be un-contracted like that. The usage certainly exists, but I feel like it is non-standard and also not very common. I think a good answer to this question needs more discussion than simply declaring both forms grammatical (or ungrammatical).
    – herisson
    Nov 27, 2015 at 7:55
  • 1
    To me, "hadn't have" seems like a version of the non-standard "hadn't of" that is corrected to have standard spelling, but not standard grammar. It's not clear to me if the "of" is fully equivalent to "have" in these kind of constructions. Here are some relevant Language Log posts: Wouldn't of have, and the comments to Language change in progress – us and our Red Sox buddies. Apparently it's mentioned in the CGEL; I haven't read the relevant chapter.
    – herisson
    Nov 27, 2015 at 8:06
  • 1
    I agree, broadly speaking. And what I'm saying is I think "hadn't have" is "wrong," even if you and many others say it. So I think you should explain a bit why it is right. (Native speaker intuitions about what is grammatical can vary by region.)
    – herisson
    Nov 27, 2015 at 8:33

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