It's Time to Knock 'Would'

Rob Kyff on

Q: Why do so many people say, "If I would have known" instead of the simpler "If I had known"? -- Katharine Brace, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

A: If I had known that question was coming, I would have baked a cake. I suspect people say "if I would have" instead of "if I had" because they're anticipating the conditional "would have" later in the sentence.

But I'm making excuses and cakes when I should be making a decision. Using "if I would have" for "if I had" is always overbaked.

Q: I usually say "different from," but I hear many people say "different than." Who is correct? -- N. Gage, East Hartford, Connecticut.

A: You are.

"Different from" is almost always the best choice, as in, "She is different from (not 'than') me" or "My car is different from (not 'than') hers."

"Different than" is acceptable only when the object of comparison is expressed by a full clause. "She is different than she was yesterday," for instance, is an acceptable alternative to the wordier "She is different from the way she was yesterday."

Q: I know "decimated" refers to any large loss of lives, but now I read and hear it used in reference to damage or destruction of things, e.g., "Hurricane Ian decimated her Sanibel Island home." Is the meaning of "decimated" being destroyed ... er, decimated? -- Ronald Perciaccante via email


A: "Decimate," which originally meant "to kill one in 10" ("decem" in Latin), now means "to cause great loss of life" and, by extension, "to destroy a large part of something." So, if Ian demolished the home, it was indeed "decimated." But using "decimate" lightly to refer to any kind of damage, e.g., "The Tigers decimated the Cubs" or "The rain decimated our picnic," trivializes its meaning.

Q: Am I being pedantic when I make a distinction between "bring" and "take"? I use "take" when I am leaving home and "bring" when I am returning. Thus, I "take" my lunch to work, but I "bring" the lunch box home with me. -- Gordon Goldsmith, Germantown, Tennessee.

A: You aren't being pedantic -- or out to lunch. "Bring" implies movement toward the speaker, and "take" implies movement away from the speaker. So, your choice of "bring" or "take" clarifies your location.

Thus, while your boss is likely to say, "Take more work home!" your spouse is likely to say, "Don't bring more work home!"

But when the position of the speaker or writer is equivocal or unimportant, e.g., "Most workers bring/take their lunches to work," the "bring/take" distinction isn't worth losing your lunch over.


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, California, 90254.

Copyright 2023 Creators Syndicate Inc.




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