C is for Conditional (the Third)

14 03 2010

A recent report on the BBC News website had this to say:

“The district committees approve plans weekly without informing me,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning.

“If I’d have known, I would have postponed the authorisation by a week or two since we had no intention of provoking anyone.”  (March 10th, 2010)

If I’d have known – not If I’d known …  Whose wording was this, I wonder? Eli Yishai’s? Israel Radio’s? Or the BBC’s?  Interesting, anyway, that the BBC didn’t feel the need to correct it. Maybe they didn’t even notice it, so frequent it has become.

Out of interest, I ran a check  using – just for fun – this data base of cinema screenplays (thanks to Nik Peachey for this link) to see how often – and how far back – the “if I’d have known…” conditional occurs. Here are some examples:

Sorry about that. If I’d have known, I’d take you to New Orleans (Apocalypse Now 1979)

If I’d have known this was going to be the last time me and Bubba…  (Forrest Gump 1994)

Yeah? I’d have brought my gloves if I’d have known  (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels 1998)

If I’d’ve known this was gonna happen, I’d have brought my motherfuckin’ gun! Help!   (The Rock, 1996)

These examples suggest that the phraseology is most common with the verb know – forming what amounts to a fixed expression. But what about these?

I couldn’t live with myself if I’d have hit her. (Cinderella Man 2005)

If I’d have fallen asleep then I would have ended up in a ditch with a headache .(Signs 2002)

If I’d have went to jail, I’d be getting out today (Jarhead 2005)

And just to show that the usage is not new, here’s an example from over 50 years ago!

If I’d have been careful piloting that reconnaissance plane you wouldn’t have had the chance to take the pictures

(Rear Window 1954)

All of which raises the question – if this usage is so well-established –  should we accept it when our students produce it?



50 responses

14 03 2010
Mr T

This is interesting, note also the excellent band Half Man Half Biscuit made the same ‘mistake’ in the song ‘Paintball’s Coming Home’, although on this page the mistake has been corrected in the lyrics.

They clearly sing, ‘if I’d a known you were coming I’d a slashed me wrists’.

Whatever, cool song from a band whose genius has been long underrated.


14 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

…if I’d a known you were coming …

It’s interesting that – by inserting an extra syllable – the third conditional is eminently more singable – which raises the interesting question as to how much language change is influenced by aesthetic factors, e.g. ‘musicality’ .

21 03 2010


I most definitely would “blame” it on the need native speakers to musicalize their speech and facilitate communication. It just sounds more “natural” and flowing.

14 03 2010

“Should we accept it when our students produce it?”

We’d have a bit of a cheek not to!

I wish I’d’ve known about this form earlier:)

14 03 2010

I have been mumbling this form to myself and realise that I have been using it in speech all my life and probably still do when I am relaxed and in conversation.

In fact, when I started teaching English I remember having problems with the 3rd conditional because I would spontaneously introduce the ‘ve bit and it would throw me totally. I’d walk around, confused, saying 3rd conditional sentences to myself and wondering what was wrong with what I had always said!

14 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

I suspect you are not alone, Glennie! Nor would you be alone in thinking (as I’m sure you don’t) that the past of should is should of, and would would of, etc etc.

15 03 2010
Jason Renshaw

Well of course I wouldn’t make that big an issue of it if my students produced this form, but I probably would try to help them understand that the correct form is a whole lot easier to say!

3rd conditional sentences are so unwieldy in so many respects (from an utterance point of view), inserting in that extra “have” just makes an already chunky mouthful that much harder to chew around.

I can remember, during my TEFL cert in the 90s, having to complete a detailed lesson plan documenting exactly how I would teach the third conditional (“with the function of regret”) within the parameters of PPP… and how it’s a lesson plan I never wanted (or ever needed) to use – thank goodness.

~ J

15 03 2010
Stephan Hughes

The funny thing about this all is that most of my advanced students would be the first to sound the grammar alarm and question its accuracy. No matter whose mistake it was, it goes to show how fluid real language can be and how much communication stands out over precision.

15 03 2010
Adriana Lima

“Should we accept it when our students produce it?” ‘Fraid so… If it’s out there, if it’s linguistically and socially frequent, then who am I not to accept it? After all, isn’t language a social phenomenon? isn’t “grammar is a study of the forms (or structures) that are POSSIBLE in a language.” Can’t remember who said that, but I couldn’t agree more.

15 03 2010
Fernando Guarany

Hi Adriana,

Should we also accept it when our students produce an utterance like “He don’t care” because “it’s linguistically and socially frequent”?

15 03 2010
Adriana Lima

Hi Fernando,

I think grammar is vast. And the interesting thing in the teaching and learning of grammar is that learners can compare and contrast different aspects of the language and learn it through all the many possibilities grammar can offer.

17 03 2010
Matt Ledding

Dead on, Adriana, Grammar IS vast, and while “half-vast” (sound it out) attempts to describe it are often necessary, we can confuse the map and the territory.

I have had trouble getting advanced ss to actively use other modals than would/will in conditionals, which natives do all the time and it gives a more precise meaning. (If I think of an example, I may post it later.)

Think they trip over the trad (prescriptive) conditional rules. They, and sometimes we (meaning I, because everyone else here is probably much more clever) , start believing in definitions that are set for a certain level, and can end up buying into our lies, instead of exploring language.

15 03 2010
Fernando Guarany

Hello Adriana,

Couldn’t agree more.
And utterances like the ones mentioned above are a good opportunity to do just that. I’m sure most of us teachers have at least once been approached by a learner asking why singer so and so says, for instance, “he don’t love you” instead of “he doesn’t…”

“She’s got a ticket to ride, but she don’t care. My baby don’t care” [Beatles]:-)


15 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Adriana and Fernando, for your comments.

While accepting non-standard usages like “she don’t care” and “if I’d a known…” don’t we also have to flag them as such? That is, don’t we have to alert learners to the fact that their acceptability is still restricted to certain registers? Or is this being unnecessarily prescriptive?

16 03 2010
Fernando Guarany

Hi Scott,

Re “don’t we have to alert learners to the fact that their acceptability is still restricted to certain registers? Or is this being unnecessarily prescriptive?”

In my opinion, the key word here is register(s).
Whenever a question about why native speakers use “wrong forms” in English emerges in class (or elsewhere), I treat it as an opportunity to introduce (or revisit) the idea of different registers (and the implications of using them). I guess this is basically what Sara Hanam also says in her comment below, “I would give my learners info on usage as it is seen in established terms but have a discussion with them about how limiting these categories are.”
Additionally, in a monolingual class, I would possibly elicit examples of utterances featuring similar phenomena in their mother tongue.

15 03 2010
Julian Gilbert

At least it’s not “If I’d OF known…..I would OF …..”
I’m not a language purist by any means but I don’t think we should teach our students incorrect forms, even if in the future the correct usage may change. We can point out that native speakers often get it wrong, and how they get it wrong but it’s our duty to give them our students the information and let them decide for themselves whether they want to speak correctly or not.
In my experience, most students prefer to use the correct forms, even if native speakers don’t.
If I’d of known you were going to post something on conditionals, I would of brushed up my grammar a bit more.

16 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

I’d agree with you, on one condition, Julian – that you change correct to standard and incorrect to non-standard. Our judgements of what is correct tend to be somewhat subjective, whereas whether a usage is standard or not can be determined by consulting the data, e.g. in the form of a corpus.

Speaking of corpora, try keying I should of known into a web-based corpus like http://www.webcorp.org.uk/ – you’ll be amazed!

16 03 2010
Sara Hannam

Standard and non-Standard are still value-laden terminology. Standard is the centre and non-Standard its inferred inferior. This is not just an issue of corpus, it is an issue of perception of the communities using those varieties and what it means to be an insider or outsider in such contexts (which cuts all ways). It cannot be said that when using those particular terms (Standard/Non-Standard) we automatically cease to reproduce a hierarchy of sorts, though I would agree that they are not as loaded as “correct” and “incorrect”. What is wrong with language varieties? You can use this term whilst still drawing attention to the learner/user etc of the context in which they are being used.

16 03 2010
Jessica Mackay

I’ve been lurking for a while but this is my first post here, motivated by debate on the 3rd conditional!

When talking about standard/non-standard and language varieties Widdowson recently threw some more terminology into the mix.
In his plenary at APAC, he distinguished between ELFL: English Learnt as a Foreign Language, and ETFL: English Taught as a Foreign Language.
As we know, what we teach is not necessarily what is learnt and the acquisition of certain structures takes a long time. This may be because emergent variation is only motivated by interactional requirement.

According to the Vienna Oxford International Corpus of English (VOICE) examples of non-standard usage such as ‘he don’t speak’ between non-native users of ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) are completely acceptable. Communicative effectiveness is prioritised above structural accuracy and the 3rd person singular ‘s’ serves no distinguishing communicative purpose. This usage is not ‘incorrect’ if the vast majority of the world’s L2 English speakers produce and understand it.

In the case of the conditional, my learners are more likely to produce conditional forms in the ‘if’ clause ‘if I would know’ ‘if I would have known’ Isn’t the second one acceptable in American English?

While we model the ‘standard’ form, the learners’ need to acquire it depends on when and how they use their English. If they want to pass an official exam, they will need to be accurate. On the other hand, if they want to negotiate in a business meeting with other non-native speakers, they may not find it necessary at all.

16 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Jessica – I’m intrigued by Widdowson’s distinction – ELFL and ETFL – is it the former that is the goal of Dogme while coursebooks aim for the latter, I wonder? Or is ELFL just another way of describing interlanguage? (I’m reminded of Michael Lewis’s contemptuous dismissal of EIL – English as an International Language – as English as an Intermediate Language!)

16 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

Good point, Sara – standard does have connotations of better – although not as laden as correct or proper! But give me an adjective that charaterizes a usage like I should of known. OK, it’s a feature of a particular language variety, but, for my learners, if I want to tag it as in some way restricted, what do I call it? Informal? Regional? Colloquial? Vernacular? Spoken? Varietal???

16 03 2010
Sara Hannam

Its hard isn’t it! Because most of these terms are binary opposites of something else which is often positioned as superior. Except for varietal or variety which assumes that all ‘versions’ are of equal value. The ‘standard’ is another variety (and there are many other varieties within the standard anyway as none of this versions of language are static, fixed or unchanging). I would personally go for variety. What do you mean by ‘restricted’ – that you want your learners to be aware of the contextual usage? I am unclear.

16 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

By restricted I mean that the usage I should of known is restricted to certain registers, whereas I should have known is less so. In this sense, I should of known, or If I’d’ve went etc are ‘marked’. Is restricted still too pejorative for you? Would you rather we didn’t give learners information on usage, and just left it up to them?😉

Personally, I’ll continue to use standard and non-standard until something better comes along. I appeal to the first part of the Macmillan Dictionary definition: “standard: generally used or accepted as normal”. Generally used is quantifiable; accepted as normal less so!

16 03 2010
Sara Hannam

:) I would give my learners info on usage as it is seen in established terms but have a discussion with them about how limiting these categories are. A nice example of critical DOGME? I guess I would let them make up their own minds. I think using ‘Standard’ and ‘Non-Standard” with a dictionary definition along with pointing out the fact that this definition sees things in a very limiting way is OK. I would disagree that the notion of “accepted” is straight forward though. This comes down to perception again. Whilst some varities are more common in insitutionalised settings, this does not mean they are “accepted”. This suggests that ordinary people (i.e. non-linguists) don’t engage with or criticise language forms which we all know just from personal experience beyond our role as teachers is not true! Language is an area that everyone has an opinion on, and it is not the case that so-called “Standards” are seen by all as superior. Indeed they are often seen to embody outdated practices and hierarchies. Human agency always defeats neat definitions!

16 03 2010

To what extent are “I should of known” and “I should have known” even distinguishable when spoken? I think in conversational usage the question of correcting this particular point is moot.

The only real way to tell the difference is in writing, isn’t it?

And the “standard” (well, call it what it what you like) form is obviously preferred, but only really necessary in formal registers–I mean, I’m not going to unfriend somebody because they wrote “should of” in a tweet, to put it in modern parlance.

It’s because of these questions I always make a big song and dance about “gonna” and “wanna” with my learners, since these are usually the most common and often the first “non-standard”(sorry again) usage that they come across–you know, that it’s generally okay in conversation or when you’re writing a hit R&B song but not in a cover letter to a job application.

Then, when these things pop up in future lessons or they come in with questions about things they use outside of class, I use it as a shorthand–“oh, that? It’s like ‘gonna’.” Seems like a suitably de-politicized means of conveying it to students.

16 03 2010

When we are judging ‘grammatical constructions’ (I’m going to call it that for now – there could be an issue with this) then the crucial fact is acceptability. When we teach grammar rules – what we are doing is teaching rules that should ensure acceptability. The utterance will be judged (or should be…) on its acceptability, not its compliance with these rules…

We need to teach students what is acceptable in different contexts – another good reason to ensure that context is well contextualised.

I’m intrigued by corpus linguistics – I’ve never really used it in teaching (I have looked at it when studying translation), but I would like to introduce some of it, at higher levels.

16 03 2010
Jessica Mackay

Hi again,

I personally think ELFL is another way of describing Interlanguage.
I think he argues that this interlanguage has identifiable commonalities across language background and level so it may be argued that it is a linguistic system in its own right, without the need to conform to rigorous NS ‘standards’
I believe Widdowson and Lewis have vastly differing opinions on this point. Widdowson, I think, was arguing that as there are now a far greater number of speakers of English as a second or additional language, they have ‘appropriated’ a system of communication that is fairly far removed from that used by Native speakers.
He listed Four ‘E’s in the talk;
E1 ENL English as Native Language
E2 ELF English as a Lingua Franca
E3 ETFL English taught as a FL
E4 ELFL English learnt as a foreign language
Obviously there is a sizeable distance between E1 and E4 and it’s our job, as teachers to bring E4 as close as possible to E1 but most learners fail the test of conformity (consequently we spend most of our working lives dealing with failure!)

I must admit to being overwhelmed by all the Es (numbers of Es ?!?) You added another one; EIL, not to mention the EFL – ESL distinction, EAP. ESP the list goes on.

16 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for that breakdown of Widdowson’s talk, Jessica. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.

It does sound like Henry’s ELFL maps on to the concept of interlanguage fairly neatly – but I’d disagree that the teacher’s job is to get E4 as close as possible to E1. If the aim of most learners is to acquire lingua franca English, then maybe the goalposts have moved. And, given that one of the forces that has moved them is the (possibly universal) nature of ELFL, then there is a greater likelihood of congruence between E 2 and E4 than there ever was between E3 and E1 – and this is good news for learners and teacehrs alike. The reason that the gap between E3 and E1 is so hard to bridge is that (a) the language described for EFL teaching purposes bears only a notional resemblance to the language used by native speakers (as corpus linguists have demonstrated) and (b) the likelihood of most EFL learners ever achieving native-like proficiency is remote, to say the least (not to mention issues of appropriacy, identity etc).

17 03 2010
Jessica Mackay

You’re right Scott, In fact, that’s exactly the point he was trying to make in the talk (much better than me!)

17 03 2010
Sue Murray

Like Jessica, this is my first post here, lack of time not lack of interest, it’s a great forum and very refreshing to read, thanks to you all, and hello!

Now, if a student presented me with the above, I’d likely feel I had to point out that, er, it’s not really on to just separate clauses with commas when we WRITE – unless it’s very informal, or on a blog like this, etc 

Which is sort of the point I wanted to make about the ‘third conditional’ example – and Nicky’s now made it so well – there’s a considerable difference between writing ‘would of gone’ and saying it. Nicky also gave the practical example of how wanna and gonna can be a useful analogy to help students understand/accept that the issue is appropriacy (rather than a black and white dichotomy like ‘correct/incorrect’ etc).

Appropriacy is about using language with real purpose with real people. In education systems, language is often stripped of its appropriacy, and based on ‘knowledge about’ formal written language. This, I think, still seeps through even in more ‘enlightened’ situations (and a good many teachers find it difficult enough to get to grips with ‘textbook’ grammar, let alone the grammar(s) of spoken language as well ……)

I certainly frequently face ‘dilemmas’ as to how far I should point out or focus on ‘inappropriacies’, perhaps especially at higher levels. What I do tend to bear in mind is that, as classroom learners, the so-called ‘standard’ – or ‘unmarked’ – forms are nearly always the ‘safest’, in that they are unlikely to offend or be inappropriate. Then, when students come across or ask about alternatives, it’s a good cue to think about when and why they would be appropriate or not.

In other words, perhaps, I’d like learners to be capable of making a choice of whether to write ‘would have done’ or ‘would a done’ in a job application, maybe choosing ‘would a done’ if it’s a job as a rap lyricist😉 as to speech, don’t we tend to naturally adapt to our linguistic environment(s)? A B1+ speaker spending a couple of months living in a student hostel and working in an office is going to naturally pick up different styles and registers when speaking to bosses, colleagues, hostel mates, friends, and if working in an office s/he’ll get familiar with the written conventions of that particular ‘house style’ or the style of the sector. When the linguistic environment is mainly classroom-based, and time is limited, we do, I think, necessarily tend to focus on ‘the standard’ insomuch as it gives the widest base from which to then adapt and diverge? What is ‘the standard’ though? an ever-changing target in many ways, but something that most people would understand, and are exposed to, regardless of what they personally use??

Italians (I teach in Italy) are very ‘touchy’ about their subjunctive mood, and many rant about how standards are falling and how the subjunctive isn’t used as it should be (by whatever divine decree originally instigated it I suppose). Yet corpus evidence (both spoken and written) shows that it’s alive and well, that its ‘misuses’ and non-uses can also be frequently found in Dante and other revered authors both ancient and modern, and that variances to prescriptive canons can be elegantly justified and are valid and creative – as well as socially and pragmatically appropriate, whether by commission or omission.

As far as native speakers are concerned, there are always people who will ‘classify’ you according to how you speak, according to the prevailing hierarchies of acceptance and sociolinguistic fashions (eg ‘ain’t’ started out as the posh-speak of Kings). Classroom learners and foreign speakers are rarely judged by the same criteria – until they become regular members of a 24/7 community?

The inverse problem is that when non-cultural heritage speakers need to pass formal examinations in the said language, they have to perform in a way few ‘natives’ would be capable of. (Having recently completed a full set of Cambridge Proficiency Pre-Tests along with my 17/18 year old students, I can honestly say that they – the students – can do things with language that, even after 20 years of teaching and a good many more as a native speaker, I still struggle to do as well as they can😉

Gone on far too long, just have to say I love the verb ‘unfriend’ – first time I’ve come across it – as far as I’m aware, which doesn’t mean it’s not been used zillions of times before (‘I’m not going to unfriend someone because they wrote “should of” in a tweet, to put it in modern parlance’ – thus also illustrating the growing informality/similarity to spontaneous speech of many forms of written language).

And thanks Jessica for the essentials of Widdowson’s talk, as always he gives insightful new perspectives, and woops I’m ‘comma splicing’ again, and what fun it is after all those CPE pre-tests 😉 (exam-wise, the difference between E1 and E4??)

17 03 2010

Incidentally, Mr T, I found a quotation that goes beyond 1954, but from a novel. Not one I’ve read or even read about, but one which wikipedia returns if you search for I’d’ve: “If they had loved knowledge, they wouldn’t’ve cared if I’d’ve ripped off their old steeple and dropped it down like an extinguisher on top of some factory chimney.” 1876 Elbow-room: A Novel without a Plot (how very dogme).

How good to hear from Sue Murray!

18 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

By chance I was reading a story last night, which began:

“We was always suppose to get married, right from the start, but I don’t think we would of ever, even if this hadn’t happened…”

(‘The Lightless Room’, by Nelson Algren, Granta, 108, 2009 – the story was written before Algren died in 1981)

Clearly, the writer is trying to capture the characteristic speech style of his protagonist, from whose point of view the story is told, although not always consistently: on the same page we get ‘So no matter how you figure it, it couldn’t hardly ever of been’ and ‘But it would have had to have been at St Columbanus’ (!). Perhaps the writer wishes to imply that ‘would have’ and ‘would of’ are in free variation?!

19 03 2010

The problem is that very few native speakers ever learn the rules, even if they should of*, or is that could of*? Does it change the meaning?

*deliberate grammarkill.

30 03 2010
Chris Ozog

Like many others, first post here after quietly reading away in the background for a while. So, hello and all that.

Related to what was said about music, and what Glennie said way up the top of this thread, the 3rd conditional has always caused me problems when I model sentences for the class, especially when practising it in connected speech. I really have to think hard to not produce something like “If I’d a come, I would’ve said something”. That erroneous “a” (in reality a schwa) has intrigued me for ages. I would never write it, but I say it. This had me wondering if it is in fact some sort of phonological issue; that it is inserted here just to make it easier for me to link to the next sound (in a similar way to something like intrusive /r/ in RP). Then again, it could be a contracted “would” followed by a contracted “have” and then a past participle (don’t get me started on them either, as they can be ‘different’ where I’m from). So then I started to wonder if I in fact said “would have + past part.” Again, I would never write that, but I could be saying it. So what is correct then? What I say or what I write? I think the point made above about register more or less hits the nail on the head and accounts for the difference between the two. Informal spoken language is very different to more standardised written language and therein could lie the answer: I use both forms, depending on the what, the who and the how. Maybe that’s something students might benefit from being aware of.

On a related anecdotal note, I teach in The Czech Republic just now and was talking about various conditionals in a C1 level class just last week. While doing some delayed error correction, I wrote up as an extra point “If I would have gone to the party, I would have seen her” and asked if anyone had any comments. The look of horror on the faces of some of the students would have made a brilliant caption competition photograph. One girl in particular was moved to denounce this form as “horrible” and when I said that many native speakers use it, there were gasps. However, given the proliferation of the form – particularly in American English, as I understand it – I think it’s pretty important to at least raise awareness of it in class. We might not want them to produce it in a CAE exam, but being aware of it – and why not use register as a handy way of accounting for it as well as other “non-standard” forms – should mean that students should be better prepared to deal with it if they encounter it and not think themselves wrong (native speakers are always right, y’know…) or be confused by it.

And finally, I taught in Costa Rica for a year and this “non-standard” form is everywhere. This is in part due to the fact that, geographically at least, Costa Rica is near The US and is saturated with its TV, blockbusters, music etc, but is more down to translation, I think. I don’t know Spanish Spanish, but in Central America I do know that the “standard” 3rd conditional translates very nicely into the “standard” English 3rd conditional: Si no habia tomado tanto, no me hubiera sentido tan malo ayer” (If I hadn’t drunk so much, I wouldn’t have felt so bad yesterday). However, in informal speech the most common form is with “hubiera” (would have”) in both clauses. Isn’t that interesting that same two forms are considered standard and non-standard in two languages?

Sorry this is so long: started and couldn’t stop!

1 04 2010

Dear Chris,

Your long comment could have been a blog entry itself – the quality of the exemplification cannot be denied. You got it right in saying that we have to make sts aware of the difference in spoken and written forms no matter the language, and that native English speakers do make mistakes as well. Knowing what is perfectly acceptable in a given situation doesn’t mean that I can or should use the same form in a context that deems it inappropriate. That is communication in a nutshell – the use of linguistic and extra-linguistic resources accordingly.

30 03 2010
Chris Ozog

Sorry to have written in another language and then got it wrong. Allow me to correct that Spanish up there:

“si no hubiera tomado tanto, no me habria sentido tan malo”

Although it used to drive my Spanish teacher mad when I got that wrong, it used to drive him even crazier when people used “hubiera” in both clauses. The point I was trying to make above is that there is a parallel with Spanish third conditionals: the difference between what people actually say and what they are told to say – exactly as we are talking about in English. It was but an aside that I thought might have been of interest to some.

30 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Chris for clarifying that. I suspected that Spanish had an analogous construction, but I wasn’t sure. Out of curiosity, I had a look on a Spanish corpus (http://www.corpusdelespanol.org/x.asp) and found the following relatively quickly:

Si me hubiera dicho que se quedaría aquí, quizás me hubiese sentido menos acongojada…
Ah, si me hubiera entregado del todo, no te hubieras casado conmigo!
Es el terremoto moral. Si me hubiera sido fiel, le hubiera adorado.
si me hubiera dicho esto, repito, quizá, quizá me hubiera hecho abrir los ojos
si hubiera tenido tres o cuatro niños me hubiera visto mucho más apurada, ¿ no?
Y si hubiera estudiado, hubiese sido mejor, porque hubiera tenidio conocimiento más amplio
si hubiera ocurrido esto aquí en España ¿ no? hubieran dicho: estos extranjeros,
Es más, me hubiera quedado más tiempo ahí si hubiera querido.
Si hubiera sido por eso, si no hubiera tenido vocación, hubiera odiado la Filosofía,
si hubiera alguna violación de reglas de parte d ellos precandidatos, lo hubiéramos hecho notar

Most of these are spoken Spanish, it should be noted. But the construction is frequent enough to be considered more than a slip.

30 03 2010

As far as spoken Spanish is concerned, the hubiera …hubiera form is used 99% of the time. In 22 years, I’ve never had anyone correct my use of this form.

I’m not sure if the Real Academia here might like it to be otherwise, but so did King Canute.

30 03 2010
Scott Thornbury

Glennie, if that is the case, then maybe the Spanish “mistake” foreshadows the English one and would of… would of will become as pervasive as hubiera …hubiera… Fascinating! What does this say about the way languages – especialy global languages – shed redundant grammar?

31 03 2010

Further research reveals that the linguistic Powers That Be here don’t have a problem with the hubiera ..hubiera repetition (not sure if they did formerly). So maybe Chris’s teachers just thought it was inelegant.

The great battle in Spanish is over the use of the masculine object pronoun. The authorities insist that it be ‘lo’ for a masculine inanimate object, but the naughty people persist with the use of ‘le’ (in fact they mix) which, they are instructed, should only be used for real walking talking males.

Most teachers of the Spanish language would themselves find it impossible to keep to this rule once they dropped their guard in relaxed conversation.

31 03 2010

Before the Hispanicists jump on me, I should state that what you really have in Spanish is a demonstratedly uncontrollable use of the three object pronouns. This example of linguistic ungovernability appears to make absolutely no difference to people’s ability to communicate verbally but may cause some Spaniards a headache when they have to express themselves in writing in more formal registers and have to opt for one form or the other.

31 03 2010
Chris Ozog

Glennie, the “leismo” used to wind up my teacher as well. I think it’s also something which is more prevalent in Spain than in Latin America (certainly Central America), where “lo” is usually preferred in the ‘right’ places. As to the third conditional, I think I’ll e-mail him and ask, as what you said about hubiera… hubiera being used all the time is really interesting. I’ll post back anything I find out. Personally, I preferred the ‘correct’ option as it translated more nicely for me back to English.

Scott, not wanting to get off topic, but another aside: another analogous geographical/grammar point is the present perfect in Spanish. Correct me if I’m wrong, Glennie, but in Spain I believe the present perfect is used quite widely; in Central America it just isn’t used. My suspicions for this come from studying for the B2 Spanish exam (DELE B2) 18months ago, where loads of the examples had the present perfect where Central Americans would have used the past simple. Of course, it’s understood when someone practising for a DELE exam uses it in conversation, but they always prefer the past simple. In a way, this would parallel the difference between the use of the present perfect in US and UK English, though obviously the difference isn’t so extreme.

31 03 2010
Jessica Mackay

Hi Chris & Glennie,

Can’t help but jump into the Spanish conditional debate.

When I was at Uni (so long ago now that the language has probably changed beyond all recognition) my teacher (a Chilena) used hubiera/hubiese …. habria/hubier/hubiese interchangeably, but when pushed, she ventured a guess that habría hecho would equal ‘would have done’ in English, while ‘hubiera/hubiese hecho’ being the subjunctive and therefore more distant from reality would translate ‘might/could have done’ etc. Don’t know if it holds water but it’s a nice thought.

As far as Peninsular Spanish is concerned, the use of the pasado compuesto / present perfect is quite commonplace, but it seems to be linked to recency. The more recent an event, the more likely you are to use it. this causes classic instances of cross linguistic influence such as ‘I have gone this morning’ (talking in the afternoon) or ‘I have seen him 5 minutes ago’.

Thanks for getting me to dust off the Spanish grammar. It’s mainly Catalan for me now. By the way, no ‘lo’ in the Catalan L2 version of Spanish!

31 03 2010

In fact there is a bit of variation in Spain with respect to the use of the present perfect. While most of Spain uses the pp in the way Jessica describes, in Galicia, there is a tendency to use the preterite. So a Galician might be more likely to say ‘Le vi esta mañana ‘ while somebody from Madrid would probably say ‘Le he visto esta mañana’. This differences arises from the fact that the Galician language does not have what we call the present perfect. This Galician use parallels the use of the past simple in English in sentences like ‘I saw him this morning’. So, in this respect, native English speakers tend to speak like Galicians when they first arrive in Spain!
Sorry to be wandering far from your original thread Scott!

31 03 2010
Philip Kerr

Interesting that in French, too, there’s a parallel. ‘Si j’aurais su’ (‘if I’d have known’) gets 111,000 Google hits, while ‘Si j’avais su’ (‘if I’d known’) gets 966,000. The 1962 movie, ‘La Guerre des Boutons’, immortalized the phrase ‘Si j’aurais su, j’aurai pas venu.’

31 03 2010
Chris Ozog

We are wandering a bit from the original now and so I join Glennie in apologising .

Jessica, that thought about the translation of the subjunctive to be more remote than the habria variant is interesting, especially given the number of times in English we might say “could” or “might” in these situations. I’d never heard that. I’ll have to quiz some Spanish speakers.

Philip, that’s really interesting. I would have said: si j’avais su, je serais pas venu” there. I don’t recall ever having heard “aurais… aurais…” when I worked in France, but I must admit that I wasn’t looking for it. Why would it be “aurais” over “serais”? I thought French third conditionals more or less translated exactly into English. Looks like I need to go back to France for some linguistic investigation.

1 04 2010
Philip Kerr

The ‘aurais’ in the ‘si’ clause is a common error / non-standard form / ‘variety’. The ‘aurais’ in the main clause is a deliberate error in the movie script, intended to poke fun.
I’m told that the ‘incorrect’ use of conditional verbs in the ‘if’ clause is a common error in German, too.

31 03 2010

Chris, there’s no change of meaning if you use hubiera/hubiese instead of habría, at least not in Spain. The habría form is largely restricted to formal registers (spoken and written).

Doubtless teachers stress that habría is really the ‘right’ word , but it makes no difference to what happens outside the classroom.

The habría form is the one you tend to learn if you take Spanish classes as a foreigner, so it’s quite confusing when you first start listening to Spanish 3rd conditionals on arrival here.

1 04 2010
Scott Thornbury

Yes, Philip, my resident German informant (!) confirms your comment re German second and third conditional equivalents. Do we have a common principle of language change operating here – the shedding of complex hypothetical constructions in favour of a more streamlined syntax? And is this a feature of fairly globalised languages with many non-native speakers, or does it also happen in Basque, say, or Hungarian??

25 08 2011

There is a much bigger problem with the third conditional. It is always taught that the condition is hypothetical. That is nonsense. If the events or states described by the verbs occur in the past of the past, then the condition is as likely to have been met as that of a first conditional is going to be met. Try constructing a mixed first/third condtional (don’t look in any coursebooks, they never give examples) and you will find that the third conditional component is not hypothetical. This, of course, is only a small part of the much larger problem with the way the verb is said to be contructed with the perfect aspect being of the same status as the progressive aspect. Again nonsense. I could go on, but to what avail?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,837 other followers