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Well, I was reading about Type Three conditionals. In the main clause we use if + past perfect (had), then in the second clause we use either the "perfect conditional" or the "perfect continuous conditional".

  • If past perfect, then conditional perfect.
  • If past perfect, then conditional perfect continuous.

Why then do some sentences use would have had in the main clause?

  1. If it had rained, you would have gotten wet.

  2. For example, if it had not been for the aid received by the European countries after World War II from the US under the Marshal Plan, they would have had to struggle tremendously to reach where they are today.

Could you please clear up the difference between would have and would have had?

Can the second sentence be written without had in its main clause?

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  • See this comment on an earlier related question: There are lots and lots of native speakers in North America who say If I would be your pupil ... It means exactly the same thing as If I were your pupil ... On the basis of which I guess they might also say If it would have rained, you would have gotten wet. (Just don't ask me whether Americans use got or gotten there; that's too complicated for me as a mere Brit! :) Jun 10, 2019 at 17:14
  • they would have had to struggle is approximately an alternative to they would have struggled, but the former incorporates to have to = to be obliged to, which may make a nuance of difference to some. Jun 10, 2019 at 17:17
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    @FumbleFingers: I know of nobody in North America who says "If I would be your pupil." That locution has "non-native speaker" written all over it.
    – Robusto
    Jul 11, 2019 at 1:55
  • @Robusto: I was extrapolating from “If I would have lost you” vs “If I had lost you”, which looks to me like the same general pattern. But I don't really understand such usages anyway (I'd only ever say If I'd have lost you, which I internally "unpack" as If I had have lost you, but apparently that's not acceptable to grammarians). If you say I'm making a mistake somewhere along the line, I'm happy to believe you. Jul 11, 2019 at 11:32
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    No one seems to say what is obvious here: He would have had to work harder, if his family had been poor = said about the past. "He would have to work harder, if his family were poor. said in the present about a situation in the present. People get their knickers in a grammar twist and overlook the bottom line.
    – Lambie
    Sep 13, 2020 at 15:01

5 Answers 5

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The main clause of a "Type Three conditional" has this construction:

past-tense modal (e.g., would) + perfect infinitive (i.e., the infinitive form of the perfect auxiliary have + past participle (e.g., gotten or had))

So it's only natural that your second example has the construction of would have had, because this is exactly the construction of the main clause of a "Type Three conditional".

Could you please clear up the difference between would have and would have had?

If you're comparing would have in your first example with would have had in your second example, then you're comparing two different things, because you should be instead comparing would have gotten in your first example with would have had in your second example, in which case I'm sure you don't see any difference between the two.

Can the second sentence be written without had in its main clause?

If you simply omit had, you get this:

...they would have to struggle tremendously to reach where they are today.

This is NOT the construction of the main clause of a "Type Three conditional", because you don't have the perfect infinitive. So, no, the second sentence can't be written without had in its main clause, unless you're going to make the second example something other than a "Type Three conditional".

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The issue here, I think, is a confusion as to the function of have. It can be an auxiliary verb or a lexical verb. In the case of would have gotten wet it is an auxiliary, whereas in would have had to struggle the first instance is auxiliary and the second lexical. In both cases, auxiliary have puts the situation into past time and would marks the counter-factuality of the situation. In the second, had has a meaning similar to must but unlike must it is not a modal auxiliary.

The second sentence cannot be written without had as the have would then be interpreted as the lexical verb and no longer mark a past time situation. The struggling would then be placed in present or future time.

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  • Are [semi-]modal usages classed as lexical? Like auxiliary 'have', semi-modal 'have to' is not considered so by some. It is very different in many respects from 'snore' or 'kick' say. May 16, 2020 at 11:01
  • @Edwin Ashworth CaGEL classifies it as lexical as it has none of the modal auxiliary properties: only primary forms(no participles), no subject-verb agreement, only bare infinitival complement, ability to occur in remote apodosis (If it weren't for her, I would give up.), modally remote preterite in main clause (I would ask you to treat it seriously.)(CaGEL p108,112)
    – DW256
    May 16, 2020 at 11:14
  • Another classification problem. 'Have to' and 'must' are at times interchangeable, and certainly close semantically. They both address epistemic, deontic and circumstantial modality. May 16, 2020 at 11:42
  • Right: have to do something=an idiom, the non-present tenses being: /had to do something/have had to do something/would have had to do something/will have to do something, and wait for it: will have had to do something. Oops: was having to do something. Probably forgotten some too.
    – Lambie
    Nov 7, 2021 at 22:04
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I support Lambie's comment.

When we use "would have"(would + infinitive) we speak or imagine about present or past. For example I don't have a car. My friend invites me to visit him. And I say, "I would visit you (now), if I had a car (now)". This is about the current situation or about the possible one in the future.

But let's take a scene, when I regret about something in the past. A completed action, which is not possible to change. So my friend invited me and I didn't go to him. He asks me why. I can say as a regret, "If I had got a car (in the past), I would have visited you (in the past). We try to imagine that past action in a different way or with a different ending.

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Would have is referring to what, hypothetically, would have happened.

Would have had to is the same except that in addition it imports the idea of necessity or obligation. i.e. would have had to means would have been compelled to or would have been obliged to or would have needed to

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It gets easier if you concentrate on the past-tense actions:

would have 'gotten wet' ('gotten' implies past-tense)

would have 'had to struggle' ('had to' implies past-tense)

in contrast:

would have 'to struggle' ('to struggle' does not imply past-tense)

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