Today’s grammatical rant: ‘would have’

A friend just brought to my attention the prevalence of the phrase ‘would have’ where ‘had’ would be more appropriate. 


You mean ‘…if I had not joined…’


You mean ‘Wish I had joined…’

To say you ‘would have’ done something in the past expresses an action you might have taken if, for instance, your circumstances had been different or if additional information had been available. It should be preceded or followed by that information, for example, ‘If I hadn’t been so lazy I would have joined track when I was a freshman.’ The sentence in the image above is basically saying ‘I wish that I’d regretted (for no known reason) not joining track when I was a freshman.’

The importance of punctuation

On Facebook today, a friend of mine asked if anybody knew why particular roads had been unusually busy this afternoon. Somebody responded to her:

No peak hour

Just like that, with no punctuation at all – although he did capitalise the N. If I were to take the most literal and obvious translation possible, I would assume he meant, ‘There was no peak hour today.’ In context, of course, that doesn’t really make sense. So maybe what he meant was, ‘I don’t know why. Was it peak hour?’

Language exists for the purpose of communication. We have rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar for the sake of clarity and uniformity. In the absence of such rules, ambiguity reigns supreme. I feel that these rules are particularly important in text-only conversations; such scenarios lack any body language or facial expression to assist in comprehension. Yet it is in our increasingly text-based society that the rules are being tossed aside in favour of abbreviations and headache-inducing ideas of ‘cool’.

I don’t pretend to be an expert. I’ve never formally studied English grammar. But as I hope you can tell, I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the fundamentals, and if I’m unsure of something I do like to check or ask somebody. I don’t mind expending some effort to ensure that my reader receives the message that I intended to send; I think it’s worth it.

I think you’re worth it.

On quotes

Throughout history there have been many memorable people who have done, believed, and said many memorable things. The passage of time removes context and intent, and we are left with quotes.

Quotes are pulled out willy-nilly by all and sundry, from prominent politicians to youtube commenters, and are used to explain or justify anything at all. They are often used in a fragmentary form, or with a word or two changed, or simply in context not originally intended, and these factors can change the meaning or implication of the quote.

And yet we still treat quotes like authorities. If somebody famous said it, and it has been remembered for so long, we seem to reason, it must be right. Never mind that somebody equally famous said something entirely contradictory!

But it makes life easier. If we are quoting somebody, we don’t need to think. A quote is a short-cut going straight from premise to conclusion, bypassing explanation. It is a replacement of reason and critical analysis.

When presenting an argument or a point of view, do try to make it your own. Justify yourself in your own words. It will gain you more respect, and will demonstrate that you’ve really thought about what you’re saying. It will also hold more relevance for your topic and circumstances.

Always remember that Gurdjieff said, ‘You must go on trying to be sincere.’ But Lowell said, ‘Sincerity is impossible.’

And you can quote me.