My question is about using the adverb "instead of". Am I right in understanding that the said adverb is usually followed by things that did not happen in the past in the story of a speaker?

You picked up someone else's keys. But you should have taken yours. So you could not get to the apartment because someone else's keys didn't fit the lock.

So we cannot say that

You should have taken your keys instead of [..].

It is not correct usage, isn’t it?


There is no reason to assume instead of to have an "irrealis" aspect. It's simply "A, not B". If you take a look at the etymology of instead, you'll see that it simply means "in the place of" or "substituting" (which again has the common latin root situ = place in it).

Your sentence is absolutely fine:

You should have taken your keys instead of someone else's.

Works the other way round, too (but is much more complicated):

You shouldn't have taken someone else's keys instead of yours.

  • You picked up someone else's keys instead of yours. I thought that version would be correct. It seemed to me that speakers of English usually mentioned unrealized things after instead of. :) Now I see that the sentence in question is fine. Thanks. – user18856 May 28 '15 at 18:50
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    @AmD: Your bold text is correct, too. instead of is quite simple to use if you keep the "in place of"/"substitute" - root in mind. And of course it's often figuratively used, not with "real" places. – Stephie May 28 '15 at 18:55
  • And "unrealized" comes with choosing A instead of B - so B becomes an option that didn't happen. But not neccessarily so, think sports: "In the second half, instead of Mark, John led the offense, confusing the opponent's defense." (-> with Mark being the offense in the 1st half) – Stephie May 28 '15 at 19:01

Instead of is a preposition. This preposition combined with a noun is a preposition phrase. This preposition phrase can be an adverb.

Instead of is not a conjunction, which connect 2 similar entities.

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