or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, October 17, 2010


This is the sort of thing that drives grammar fans crazy.

From, as ever, Slate, specifically the advice column Dear Prudence:

I would have loved to hear your sister's side of this, but I can say with near certainty that she would disagree with your characterization that she's severed your relationship over "one mistake."

"I would have loved to hear" is, I would have thought, self-evidently incorrect, because "I would have loved" suggests to corollary "but I do not, in fact, love." What was intended was obviously (I would again have thought) "I would love to have heard", because the corollary to that, "but I didn't hear", is what is intended--the columnist didn't hear the letter-writer's sister's side of the story. The conditional mood--"I would have" plus a past-tense verb--has somehow gotten attached to the wrong verb in this admittedly complex structure.

You don't often hear this construction correctly, do you? It wouldn't take much to convince me that the incorrect version is more common than the correct: I can't prove it from Google, because "I would love to have" usually continues with a noun ("I would love to have kids/a Maserati/twenty-inch biceps"), but "I would have loved to" gets about four million hits, and that's seriously four million too many.

Here's a variant of it that you also hear all the time: "If I would have known he was sick, I would have visited him." In this case, the subjunctive "If I had known" somehow gets squished into the conditional perfect "would have", and the speaker or writer creates a sentence that's not only a grammatical mess but also unattractive and overly wordy.

The headline to an article from the business-oriented Self-Improvement Association:

"10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Went Into the Real World"

The missing thing number 11: I wish I had learned correct grammar before writing business articles.


Blogger jack said...

Hi Pyramus, thanks for your analysis & passion for English grammar! However, I'm not sure I completely agree with your understanding of this grammatical rule.

Have a look at this forum: http://www.eslhq.com/forums/esl-forums/english-questions/would-have-liked-do-would-like-have-done-3348/
in which Susan analyzes the similar phrases "I would like" vs. "I would have liked".

So, in the case of the Slate article, the writer could be expressing past regret for a past action (though I agree it's unlikely). Also, rather than interpreting "I would have loved" to mean "I do not, in fact, love", it could be interpreted to mean "In the past, I would have loved, but this is not true not in the present". Have a look at this site which explains the use of "would" as an auxilliary: http://www.wordpower.ws/grammar/gramch08.html. Near the end, the article explains: "the Perfect conjugation with the auxiliary "would" may be used as a past form of the Simple conjugation with the auxiliary would." So "I would have loved" is the past form of the wish/desire "I would love", rather than a false condition.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. ;)

- Jack

Thursday, February 03, 2011 11:21:00 AM  

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