I wanted to communicate the following with someone:

  1. I would do this thing, if I could do it.

However, always trying to be clever and using amusing, possibly archaic grammar I wanted to type:

  1. I would, but I could.

It's not clear to me this is correct in any way. Altering this again it makes more sense, reminding me of a line Shakespeare might write.

  1. But(if) I could do this thing, then I would.

Is sentence three (3) grammatical, and does it make sense to most people? Does this construct with but meaning if have a name? What about sentence two (2) which seems to me like a shortened version of three (3). This SE question offers details about implied if, which could be related.

  • 1
    Shakespeare might've written could I do this, I would do it in the same way that we still write had I done this, I would've done it or were I able, I would be able, but this "subjunctive inversion" or whatever it's called has nothing to do with but. Might you be confusing the two constructions?
    – Anonym
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 19:38
  • You can check out how ol' Shakspur actually used the word at: shakespeareswords.com/Glossary?let=b
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 19:45
  • @Anonym you are probably correct about my confusion. Or I may have incorrectly generalized some proper constructs.
    – TonyH
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 19:47
  • 1
    Open discussion is more appropriate at our English Language & Usage Chat.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 20:16
  • 1
    Wouldn't "but that" be more idiomatic? I would, but that I could.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 20:57

2 Answers 2


If you want to sound smart, and up-to-date, you could try,

I would do it, provided that I could.

From dictionary.com

1. on the condition or understanding (that); providing :
I'll go provided that the others go, too.

If you wanted to be concise, you could say:

I would if I could.

If you wanted to be clever you could add:

I would if I could, but I can't so I won't.

  • Even more clever, if not dated, "but I can't so I shan't."
    – vpn
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 2:20

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