Is it allowed to use the "if + would" conditional when speculating about a polite request that could have taken place in past? I know that the would structure can be used to make a polite request, but can it be used for making one in the past as well?

If he would have told me what he wanted for lunch, I would have cooked it for him.

Also, may I use this construction in the past perfect tense?

Example: If he "would had told" me what he wanted for lunch, I would have cooked it for him.


"will" and "would" can be used in conditional clauses when a polite request is implied (the examples are taken from here):

  • If you 'll just fill in this form before you go, you can hand it in to reception.

  • If you would take a seat, the doctor will see you in five minutes.

However, strictly speaking, this cannot be the case with a counterfactual conditional sentence in which both the condition and the result are set in the past.

In the Cambridge Dictionary, we find this reference:

We use would have + -ed in the main clause, not in the conditional clause:

If he had stayed in the same room as Dave, it would have been a disaster.

Not: If he would have stayed … it would have been a disaster.

People do sometimes use the form with "would have" in informal speaking, but many speakers consider it incorrect.

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    +10 if I could. Not a native speaker, but I learnt that "would" can never be in the part of sentence with "if", the only exception are polite requests. See here and here. So I wonder what the currently accepted answer is about. – rexkogitans Mar 10 '19 at 9:59
  • @rexkogitans It's safer not to use "would" -- only native speakers know how and when to use it in conditional clauses. You may want to read this paper: researchgate.net/publication/… by Renaat Declerck, an expert in English tenses and conditional sentences. – Gustavson Mar 10 '19 at 13:13
  • Well, point 32 of this paper is the only occurrence of "would" in the if-part. I admit, it is hard to recognise as such. – rexkogitans Mar 10 '19 at 13:30
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    "would" is accepted by some speakers when it has a volitional sense. Thus, "if he would have told me" is similar to "if he had wanted to tell me". – Gustavson Mar 10 '19 at 13:35

There is nothing wrong with this:

✔ If he would have told me what he wanted for lunch, I would have cooked it for him.

However, it's a bit more common for it to be phrased this way:

✔ If he had told me what he wanted for lunch, I would have cooked it for him.

On the other hand, the combination of both would and had does not work:

✘ If he would had told me what he wanted for lunch, I would have cooked it for him.

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  • But what about the construction: "If Robert wasn't so lazy he could have been promoted." And also: "If Robert wasn't so lazy he will be promoted." Are the tenses in the second clause interchangeable? Is it allowed to use them in this form? – Rare Mar 10 '19 at 1:57
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    Idiomatically, your first sentence is fine. Technically speaking (according to traditional grammar) it should be If Robert weren't so lazy he could have been promoted. Your second sentence should be rephrased: Robert would be promoted if he weren't so lazy. – Jason Bassford Mar 10 '19 at 1:58
  • In Australian grammar, we never say "If he were", always "If he was" for the subjunctive. See: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/be#Conjugation Unfortunately, that implies that Australian English is "non-standard". Note that some other English variants use "were" for the indicative singular. – CJ Dennis Mar 10 '19 at 5:12
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    @Rare "will" is incorrect in your second sentence. "Will" is used for something we are sure about. It doesn't make sense to combine it with a conditional or hypothetical construction. It could be: "If Robert wasn't so lazy he would be promoted." (Australian grammar, acceptable in many other variants). Use "If Robert weren't ..." for "Standard" grammar. – CJ Dennis Mar 10 '19 at 5:19

If he would had told me is considered grammatically incorrect. The first example you showed is right.

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First example:

✔ Correct

Second example:

✖ Incorrect

Either having had without would, or having have with would are both correct,

Can't mix those to up!

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