Sorry if my question sounds dumb here. I am not a English speaker and now I am trying to learn and improve my English. Suppose following scenario occurs:

Person A has done something wrong in past and Person B is suffering in present due to the fault of A. Now person B wants to tell that what A did was wrong and instead of doing wrong, if he did something else, he should have done right.

So is it correct to use the following structure if B is telling to A (actually I have tried this)?

You had done wrong; instead of doing this,if you would have done that, this might would have been right.

I am confused with the italicized parts. Is this structure correct grammatically? I suspect it is not, then what should be the right format?

  • 3
    What you did was wrong. You should have done this instead. – Jim Nov 30 '12 at 4:06
  • 1
    @Jim The question is whether the structure is grammatically correct. And, maybe, "if not, then what is wrong with it?"). – Kris Nov 30 '12 at 5:25
  • @Kris- I agree completely. I didn't want to provide a full answer which is why I wrote what I did in a comment. – Jim Nov 30 '12 at 5:26
  • @Kris- Also, my comment can be taken two ways... – Jim Nov 30 '12 at 5:29
  • @Jim, Very funny! – Mistu4u Jan 20 '13 at 18:20

The first clause requires the past tense, not the past perfect construction. This is because the past perfect is normally used only to describe one past event that precedes another. The past tense, by contrast, describes an event that occurred at a particular time in the past and which is complete at the time of speaking.

In the second and third clauses you have tried to form what is sometimes known to foreign learners of English as the Third Conditional. It is used to describe an event which did not occur, with a speculation on the consequence if it had. It is formed by using had + past participle in the ‘if’-clause and would (or another modal verb) + have + past participle in the main clause. This means that the ‘if’-clause in the example should be if you had done that and that the main clause should be this would (or might) have been right. Standard English does not allow one modal verb to follow another, so might would is ungrammatical.

That is the formal position. However, even as amended, this is not what a native speaker would be likely to say. The thought, depending on the context, would probably occur as something like

What you did was wrong. You shouldn’t have done it. Anything would have been better than that.

  • With reference to your suggestion, how can "anything" would have been better than that? "Anything" can also include any of the other "wrong things" which he could have done. – Mohit Nov 30 '12 at 8:39
  • @Mohit. I don't know. As I said, it all depends on the context. We need to know what has gone on previously in the conversation, what the relationship between the two speakers is, the circumstances in which they are having the conversation, and what each hopes to get out of it. Language exists in a social context, not in a vacuum. – Barrie England Nov 30 '12 at 8:44
  • Past tenses do not describe finished actions, by the way. If they DID (probability) this sentence would be wrong. It COULD (formality) be better to think of them as describing distance, either in terms of time, formality or probability. As a starter look at The English Verb, M. Lewis for example, a book I have read (finished action). See Swan for when we use Present Perfect with finished periods of time. – EnglishAdam Nov 30 '12 at 8:44
  • @Gamemorize. That's very kind of you, but I have loads of grammar books, thank you very much. If you have a better answer, I'm sure the OP would like to see it. – Barrie England Nov 30 '12 at 8:46
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    @Gamemorize The most common use of the "past tense" is perfective: to describe actions finished in the past. For pedagogic purposes this aspect of the form is often scanted in elementary textbooks and classrooms, in order to contrast use of the "past" with "perfect" constructions, but that doesn't change the fact. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 30 '12 at 14:08

The comment by Jim is the answer you're looking for. However, I just want to add that if you want to keep the sentence structure similar to what you have, it may be something like this:

What you did was wrong, if you had done this instead, it would have been right.

  • 1
    "What you did was wrong. If you had done this instead, it would have been right." Comma splice has to be replaced by a period and a capitalized "If". Then it's grammatical. – user21497 Nov 30 '12 at 6:27
  • @BillFranke, Please elaborate the comma factor. You may add an answer also.This would be very kind of you. – Mistu4u Nov 30 '12 at 11:27
  • I believe what he means is that grammatically, it makes more sense to break that into two sentences instead of trying to indefinitely extend it with commas which can confuse the meaning. Also, I care not for upvotes and accepted answers on here but for the sake of accuracy, your accepted answer has many issues with it as are being discussed in its comments, please don't use that sentence. – superdemongob Nov 30 '12 at 12:23
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    @Mistu4u: A comma splice is joining two independent clauses with a comma. That's considered ungrammatical. It's generally acceptable in dialog, but not in formal writing. You can read about comma splices here and on many other pages on the Net. Just type comma splice into a search window. I got 119,000 hits. – user21497 Nov 30 '12 at 12:57

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