Annoyances: conditionals

Here’s another mistake that I hear almost every day, but has become so widespread that it is now considered correct by many. Of course, English is constantly evolving, but that does not mean that the rules should be completely ignored due to ignorance!

A conditional clause in English requires a couple of things – the word if, on one side of the sentence – and then a verb in the conditional tense (for example, “I would have seen”, or “I would go”) on the other. Let’s look at an example:

If I had entered the competition, I would have won.

In this (correct) sentence, the second part of the sentence is hypothetical – since I did not enter the competition, I did not win.

However, often in American English you hear:

If I would have entered the competition, I would have won.

This may sound correct due to the fact that you hear it so often, but you should not have a conditional verb on both sides.

A similar error involving conditional sentences is the difference between “would have” and “would of”. It is quite easy to see how this mistake comes about – since “would have” is so often shortened in conversation to “would’ve” (see my earlier post about apostrophes to see why it contracts like this), it can sound a lot like “would of”.

For example:

I would have won the competition.

I would of won the competition.

When written out like this, it is easier to see that the first sentence (“would have”) is correct, and the second (“would of”) is incorrect. “Would of” means nothing, since “would” modifies the verb that follows, and “of” is, of course, not a verb.

The very same applies to “should have”/”should of”, “will have”/”will of”, and “could have”/”could of”. In all instances, “have” is correct.