3

I stumbled upon it in this video. It is at 1 hour 21 minute and 42 second.

If the Israelis would ever once just say we got screwed in 1948, and we are sorry it happened, we would be willing to make peace.

I think it is quite clear that the sentence is conditional, thus it is not correct to use would in the if clause. Did the lecturer say that by mistake? Or is that some kind of grammar I am not aware of? And by the way, what does get screwed mean there?

2
  • This is a question of dialect. American English uses this construction often; British English hardly ever. (In Britain we would say "If the Israelis ever once just said...") So it is correct English.
    – TonyK
    Jul 6, 2019 at 12:56
  • @TonyK I believe you have mistaken a wholly licit and common construction for a widely condemned one. The two are unrelated and so should not be tarred with the same brush. The one considered sub- or non-standard runs along the lines of If it ?would have rained, we would have been happier. The one that's just fine is the backshifted version of If you will please leash your dogs, we can let the cats in > If you would please leash your dogs, we can/could let the cats in, where the backshifting softens the request for politeness' sake, not for an irrealis protasis.
    – tchrist
    Jul 6, 2019 at 13:23

1 Answer 1

5

Yes, this particular “double-would” scenario is perfectly fine (unlike most of them).

That’s because the first would in your sentence is the one that means to be willing or wanting to do something. It’s about willingness, volition.

Read it this way:

If only the Israelis had ever once been willing to just say that we got screwed in 1948 and that they're sorry it happened, we would be willing to make peace.

The reason speakers of foreign languages are told they should “never” use will or would in the if part of a conditional is not because this is true, but because it stops them from making common blunders that native speakers simply do not say.

For example, these are all wrong but are commonly heard from learners trying to compose valid English conditional constructions:

  1. If it *will rain, we will stay home.
  2. It if *would rain, we would stay home.
  3. If it *would have rained, we would have stayed home.

It is easy to correct those to make them grammatical:

  1. If it rains, we will stay home.
  2. It if rained, we would stay home.
  3. If it had rained, we would have stayed home.

However, your example sentence did not use would in the if part incorrectly. That’s because this is the version of that verb which means to want to or to be willing to. It is about willingness, not about probability. Given that only animate subjects can be willing, it is impossible to use this form in the if it rains examples given above.

However, it is perfectly normal to use if you will or if you would in de-facto requests like these:

  1. If you will please give me your name, we can get started here.
  2. If you would please give me your name, we can get started here.

As you see, these are more like polite requests than they are expressions of a non-real scenario in the if part. The reason would happens in the second version is because we routinely backshift to make a request more polite. Therefore the second of these is more polite than the first:

  1. Will you please give me your name so we can get started here?
  2. Would you please give me your name so we can get started here?

There are other, rarer occasions to use would in conjunction with if. One of those is when it’s an if only:

  1. If only it would rain!
  2. If only it were so!

Those two are cases for which some languages use an dedicated optative mood to express, but English doesn’t have that. But English does use the same forms with wish that it uses with if only:

  1. I wish it would rain.
  2. I wish it were so.

This is not intended to be an exclusive set of all possible legal if + will/would combinations that natives use but learners are seldom taught. There are more possibilities that are legal. Native speakers create far more forms of conditionals, all grammatical, than learners are ever taught.

The directive “never” to use will or would in a conditional is a simplified version of reality that attempts to block common errors. No native speaker is ever told this.

For your other question, to be/get screwed means to be cheated or to be unfairly made to suffer some loss or figurative injury at someone else's hand, and there's nothing that can be done about it.

2
  • Could you tell me what "get screwed" mean? Jul 6, 2019 at 12:17
  • 2
    @DmytroO'Hope Sure thing, to be/get screwed means to be cheated or to be unfairly made to suffer some loss or figurative injury at someone else's hand.
    – tchrist
    Jul 6, 2019 at 13:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.