I wonder how this sentence sounds. Does it sound absurd or could it be used in some situations?

In other words, is it possible to make a correct sentence with this phrase 'if she would have studied hard'?

PS. Source: my curiosity (I maybe remember someone using this kind of sentence)

  • It would help if you told us where you found this sentence. Can you provide a link?
    – fev
    Dec 30 '20 at 19:16
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    They are different. Would implies she chose not to. Could implies she wasn’t able to.
    – Jim
    Dec 30 '20 at 19:17
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    "if she would have studied hard" is considered grammatically incorrect. For a 2nd conditional "If she had studied hard" would be correct.
    – fev
    Dec 30 '20 at 19:19
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    @fev In the past I may have agreed to your comment, but since I stopped teaching I have seen that many native speakers speak that way. I am not sure it is grammatically incorrect.
    – Cascabel
    Dec 30 '20 at 19:46
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    @Cascabel: Oh, but I came here to learn! The best thing I like on this site is when someone explains to me my mistakes in a friendly way. That's when I learn the most. Also, I think there must be a limit to how much free one can be with grammar rules. I just guess it moves with time and usage. I agree we must adapt to the movement. But I cannot not be attracted to what I like to call "noble language" where grammar is less loose let's say.
    – fev
    Dec 30 '20 at 22:07

Many people (Americans, at least), use this construction (would have + Past Participle),
instead of past perfect (had + Past Participle), and with the same meaning.

  • If she would have studied harder, she could have gotten an A.

  • If she had studied harder, she could have gotten an A.

Of course, this is only in writing.
What people would actually say blurs the seeming difference between these two constructions.

Auxiliary verbs are usually contracted; in particular, would is normally contracted to a single final 'd. I.e,

  • She would never do that ==> She'd never do that.
  • He would answer the phone in Swedish ==> He'd answer the phone in Swedish

Would have is contracted to would've, normally pronounced /wʊdə/,
with the /v/ dropped and only the syllable remaining.

  • He would have hung up ==> He would've hung up /hiwʊdəhə'ŋəp/

However, would've can also contract the would to /d/, as usual, so further contraction is possible, to

  • He would've hung up ==> He'd've hung up. /hidəhə'ŋəp/

which leaves only /də/ between he and the verb. Recall that this syllable is intended to be a short form of would have, at least in the mind's ear of the speaker.

And in the example sentence, that'd be

  • if she would have studied harder ==> if she'd'a studied harder

Notice that, in shortening would have successively to /də/, we have passed right through the standard contraction for the past perfect. I.e,

  • if she had studied harder ==> if she'd studied harder

so the only pronunciation difference between these two forms is the presence or absence of a reduced schwa (/ə/), which can get swallowed easily in ordinary speech.

Consequently, many people don't hear any phonetic difference between these two constructions. They look very different on paper (and there isn't any semantic difference between them), but people can't tell which one others are using, so they confuse them totally, with the usual result.

  • 3
    I have heard people say “woulda, coulda, shoulda” as a rueful mantra when talking about a missed opportunity. Definitely idiomatic in US English.
    – rob
    Dec 31 '20 at 0:37
  • @John Lawler and rob, Thank you much for great explanations. Very detailed and informative as well and informative.
    – Brandon
    Dec 31 '20 at 0:58
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    There’s also the occasional deontic case where If she would have let him in, he would have seen it gets used in the sense of If she had been willing to let him in, he would have seen it. That's more the backshifted version of deontic if you will all please take your seats, we can get started because deontic will/would means want to or to be willing to.
    – tchrist
    Dec 31 '20 at 1:00
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    Many people, including, but hardly ... hardly ... limited to, many Americans, speak and write every which way, without giving much thought to what they're saying.
    – Ricky
    Dec 31 '20 at 2:38
  • A point I forgot to make is that, just to complete the confusion, many people insert an epenthetic schwa with the past perfect -- She had studied hard comes out She'd'a studied hard; He had been there before comes out He'd'a been there before. So in their speech, the two constructions are in fact indistinguishable; this is how syntax changes. Dec 31 '20 at 15:49
  1. The former implies she had other things to do that seemed more important and/or pleasant at the time. The latter indicates that, in the speaker's opinion, at least, she did not have the ability to study hard.

  2. It would be better grammatically and stylistically to say "Had she studied hard, [she would have been a celebrated and well-compensated scholar by now].

  • 1
    The former... the latter... ??? I can see only one sentence.
    – Centaurus
    Dec 30 '20 at 19:34
  • former: if she would have studied, latter: if she could have studied
    – Brandon
    Dec 30 '20 at 19:44
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    @Centaurus: The OP has been edited since.
    – Ricky
    Dec 30 '20 at 21:13

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