Friday, May 21, 2010

mixed modals

I found Ta-Nehisi Coates' use of had have awkward in the following sentence (referring to Rachel Maddow's recent interview with Rand Paul):

That interview would have went a lot better for Rand Paul if Maddow had have just thrown her notes in the air and accused him of being a bigot, and a covert member of the Klan. (emphasis added).

So, the construction is "X would have went a lot better if Y had have just verbbed." My position is that the tense and aspect of the VP in the embedded subjunctive (the if-clause) normally matches the VP in the main clause. So, my preference is for "X would have went a lot better if Y would have just verbbed."

This use of had reminds me of the use of past perfect for simple past in black English, in constructions like "He had told me to be here at six." (though this wiki page says nothing about it). But this is not simple past anyway. Coates' use of had in the embedded clause may be a function of his dialect, I don't know. He's from Baltimore, but I don't know which neighborhood.  In a previous post, he talks about his language use as a child just a bit:

The fact is that while I read a ton, and got teased for it, I lived in the neighborhood and talked like people in the neighborhood. I was in gifted classes at school, but I didn't have the kind of parents who penalized for using a word like "irregardless." Moreover, I was, if not particularly cool, still really well liked.  My particular and specific black experience was that as long as you had some familiarity with the language, you pretty much were free to do whatever you wanted. (emphasis added).

Nonetheless, I'm no prescriptivist, I just thought it curious.

2 comments:

jp 吉平 said...

At this point I don't know what is standard, but my preference would be:

...it would have gone a lot better if Maddow had just thrown her notes in the air...

but I do say things like "it would have went better" all the time.

I honestly don't know what to think about the simple past vs. past perfect (subjunctive?) in the dependent clause.

Chris said...

jp 吉平,, I agree that went is also awkward. Interesting that your version doesn't require a model in the embedded phrase. I find your version perfectly acceptable as well.