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I remember hearing that if and would should never be in the same sentence. I however don't know what is actually considered the same sentence, so here are to examples.

If he would only stop bothering me..

I'm assuming this is incorrect

It would have been better if I had the roof repaired yesterday rather than leaving it until today.

I'm assuming that this is actually correct, even though would and if are in the same sentence.

Is this correct?

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    Who said that if and would cannot be in the same sentence. That rule (and probably pretty much any rule that strongly stated) is certainly not true. – Daniel Jun 12 '13 at 20:38
  • @Daniel A former English teacher of mine, whom I consider very competent. – Practice4CPE Jun 12 '13 at 20:46
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    If I heard that silly rule, I would probably fall over from laughing so hard. – J.R. Jun 12 '13 at 21:35
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As everybody so far has told you, this “rule” is quite false. FumbleFingers, J.R. and Matt have given you quite enough counterexamples to prove that.

But it appears that yours is not an isolated misunderstanding. On Google I’ve found half a dozen instances of other students who “remember being told this in school”; it’s enshrined in a mnemonic rhyme: IF and WOULD aren't good, IF and WILL make me ill; and there’s at least one website for english learners, speakspeak, maintained by a man who “has been teaching English for 20 years”, which explicitly prohibits sentences of the same form FumbleFingers endorses. So the interesting question is Where would such an absurd rule come from?

I suspect that this is what I have elsewhere called a “baby rule”, an overgeneralization designed to protect learners from some very common mistake before they know enough English to recognize when the rule is no longer valid.

In this case the reason for the rule is fairly clear. In the first place, its scope is not a sentence but a clause; if you look at speakspeak you will see that the author says that the error is “putting ‘would’ in the if-clause”. And many of the examples there are in fact instances where if … will/would is unidiomatic:

If I will see Peter, I will ask him.
If I would have more time, I would take up golf.

It is quite true that English does not employ will/would in condition clauses in a futurive sense.

This is difficult for speakers of some other languages with different syntax. Indeed, one of the ungrammatical sentences at speakspeak is difficult for many native speakers; it is the parade example of what the British, with more accuracy than charity, characterize as “footballer English”, because it is characteristic of athletes-turned-broadcasters, who are anxious about their colloquial speech and prone to hypercorrection:

If you would have studied more, your English would have improved. ... which should be expressed
If you had studied more ...

Where the rule breaks down is in precisely the sort of sentence which FumbleFingers offers. Speakspeak is quite wrong in holding these sentences to be ungrammatical:

If you will study more, your English will get better.
If you would study more, your English would get better.

The wills and woulds in these sentences, and Fumblefingers’, are not futurive but are representatives of the now obsolete volitive sense of will. In these uses, will originally signified, approximately, be willing or consent:

If you will hand me that hammer ...
If you would be so kind ...
If they will at least meet with us ...
If he would only shut up!

The volitive sense is no longer present in such expressions as these; but because they were not futurive, the form endured and became fossilized in them.

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  • My first thought that it was maybe a clause-based rule, not a sentence-based rule. And let's not forget this famous lyric: "If I were a carpenter, and you were a lady, would you marry me anyway?" – J.R. Jun 13 '13 at 2:31
  • Actually, I believe there are regions of the U.S. where lots of people do use "would" in expressions like "if I would have more time ...". So the rule also may come from English teachers in these areas trying to correct the local dialect. – Peter Shor Jul 15 '13 at 11:40
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Perhaps OP's teacher massively overstated what I think is really just a "stylistic guideline". Consider...

1: If you just stop crying I will give you a lollipop
2: If you would just stop crying I would give you a lollipop
3: If you just stop crying I'll give you a lollipop
4: If you would just stop crying I'd give you a lollipop
5: If you'd just stop crying I will give you a lollipop
6: If you'd just stop crying I'd give you a lollipop
etc., etc.

Native speakers wouldn't often use #2 (without any contractions), simply because it's rather "stilted". But there's nothing inherently ungrammatical about using the "conditional auxiliary verb" would there. The sense of the whole sentence is conditional anyway - would simply reflects that.

Some grammarians might carp at mixing conditional and "standard" verb modes in, for example, #5. But native speakers don't normally let such pedantry affect their phrasing.

More crucially, some (equally pedantic) grammarians might think that the "conditional" mode is already expressed by the word if, so there's no need to use a conditional auxiliary verb. And perhaps some take it even further and say that if there's no actual need to do this, you shouldn't do it. But they're just wrong.

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  • Not so sure about your assertion that #2 isn't used by native English speakers. "If you children would just shut up for a second, I might be able to hear myself think!" is entirely "normal" English. – Matt Jun 12 '13 at 23:48
  • @Matt: I certainly wouldn't want to overstate the case there, but you'll admit your example is typical of an exasperated person really spelling it out. Besides, the specific example I said wouldn't often be used was a very short one with two instances of would close together. I think in practice, unless there's some reason why the speaker wants to be "unnaturally precise", they'd usually use at least one contraction with something like my example. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 12 '13 at 23:56
  • I think Fumble's theory is here is on the right track. In other words, I think the teacher was probably referring to some narrower circumstances, and the rule wasn't meant to be applied to every sentence. (Much like how "i before e, except after c" isn't meant to be a general spelling guideline, but only a guideline for spelling words where the 'ei' or 'ie' vowel pair makes the long e sound.) Without being able to ask the teacher, though, I wonder what the rule was really supposed to be? – J.R. Jun 13 '13 at 0:53
  • @J.R.: Yes, I think we should assume that if someone says they've been told a "rule" that superficially sounds like nonsense to native speakers, there's probably some reason behind it. I'm not saying my theory here necessarily encapsulates that original reason - which may be amplified by misconception/pedantry on the teacher's part and/or misunderstanding by OP. As you say, it'll be interesting if any other learners have been told anything similar - and if so, with what if any justification? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 13 '13 at 1:21

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