I happened to be stabbed by TonyK about "Would I have" and "If I would have."

I remember pretty well that grammar books taught me this and there were examples and I oftentimes met such structure in literature, and sci-fi books that I love so much. So is it correct to say:

  • Would I have (had) a gun I would have (had them shot) shot them.
  • If I would have (had) a gun I would have (had them shot) shot them.

  • Had I known him earlier I wouldn't have gone to him.
  • If I had known him earlier I wouldn't have gone to him.

And in interrogative sentences:

  • If I had got my years back, would I have changed anything?
  • Had I got my years back, would I have changed anything?

  • If I would have eaten that, would I die?
  • Would I have eaten that, would I die?

I remember meeting phrases like:

  • I wouldn't be me would I have not studied that much in the past.
  • Would he be a racer had his parents not bought him the car?

Edit: Here I found the rule and examples (Subject–Verb Inversion and Omitting "if")

  • 2
    Your final example is a bit "stilted" (nearly all native speakers would say Would he be a racer if his parents hadn't bought him the car?), and your penultimate example just looks like syntactic garbage to me - where have you come across anything like that?. Mar 27, 2017 at 15:17
  • @FumbleFingers Books by Ray Bradbury, Harry Harrison, and other sci-fi writers. These examples aren't quotes but there certainly were sentences of a kind in their books! Mar 27, 2017 at 15:23
  • 2
    Unless you can show me a specific instance, I simply don't believe either of those two (or any other half-way competent writers) would have come out with anything like your penultimate example.. Mar 27, 2017 at 15:28
  • 3
    I've upvoted your question because I understand why you're asking it - but, you're not correct here. You didn't see sentences that were exactly like those. Sorry, but can't answer. Too busy. And you have way too many examples to address in your question (and I don't have nine hours to spare). Mar 27, 2017 at 22:59

2 Answers 2


It would be very unusual (in contemporary English) to use "Would I had ..." or "Would I have had ..." to mean "If I had..." or "If I had had..."

Normally we'd say (in eye-dialect):

If I woulda hadda gun, Ida shot him dead, then and there.

If only ...

Would that I had a horse!

means "If only I had a horse!" or "I wish I had a horse!"

Would that I'd had a gun, I'd have shot him then and there.

If only I had had a gun, I'd have shot him, then and there.

  • See the link in my Edit Mar 27, 2017 at 15:51
  • What about it??
    – TimR
    Mar 27, 2017 at 19:17
  • It's what I am talking about. Mar 27, 2017 at 19:21
  • 2
    What about it?? It doesn't apply to would in non-interrogatives in contemporary English.
    – TimR
    Mar 27, 2017 at 19:21
  • Would I had is impossible. I didn't include it in my question. Mar 28, 2017 at 7:00

You're asking a question about the subjunctive mood in English, Yay!

First, let's frame the topic.

"In English, the subjunctive mood is used to explore conditional or imaginary situations. It can be tricky to use, which partially explains why many speakers and writers forgo it. But it’s quite useful (and aesthetically pleasing, at least to us), and careful users of English should do their part to preserve it."


In essence, we're talking about an unreal event (in these contexts, they're unreal because you cannot go back in time to have a gun, etc.). Both of your examples pass the sniff test for making sense in English. They're both correct. The only difference is that in the first example, you're implying a wish and in the second you're stating fact.

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