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My cousin wrote the following today:

Never would I've believed.

The use of "I've" here, rather than "I have", sounds extremely strange to me. Is it actually incorrect? If so, is there some sort of rule I could use to explain what makes it so?

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  • In simplistic terms it sounds wrong to me when the ’h’ and the ’a’ are both contracted, but it sounds more reasonable when only the ’h’ is dropped and the ’a’ is just reduced.
    – Jim
    Mar 12, 2020 at 7:35
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    It's not idiomatic. In speech the usual pattern would be "... would I 'uv ..."
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 12, 2020 at 12:30
  • @HotLicks, that smells like a significant distinction. "I've" is a single contracted word, while "I 'ave" is two words, one of which has undergone H-dropping. They don't seem to be quite interchangeable.
    – dfeuer
    Mar 12, 2020 at 17:25

2 Answers 2

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Never would I've believed.

The reason I've sounds wrong here is that I've is a contraction of I have, where the have is in the present tense, whereas the have in the example should be infinitive as it follows would.

Note the uninverted version is one of these:

I never would have believed.

I would never have believed.

I would have never believed.

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Man, great question! My guess: Using inverted word order (verb-subject instead of subject-verb) after negatives is formal English. Formal English abhors contractions. Ergo no contractions after:
never
hardly
nor
neither (as in "neither do I")

There's another weird construction in English where we can't use contractions:
Yes, I am. (Not "Yes, I'm.)
Yes, you will (Not "Yes, you'll.")
Yes, he would. (Not "Yes, he'd.")

I don't think they're related other than it proves to me that we don't use contractions if we've never heard anyone contract the words.

As for it being incorrect, I don't know, but it does sound weird.

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  • I'm pretty sure this is not a register (formal/informal) issue. Your list of of example situations where contractions can't appear seems much closer in spirit to whatever the problem is with my example.
    – dfeuer
    Mar 12, 2020 at 5:13

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