Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Would have, could have, should have

¡Felíz año nuevo! and welcome to my first post of 2014.

Let's kick the new year off with a little puzzle.
Spot the odd man out.

a) I have done it
b) I would have done it
c) I could have done it

Got it yet?
How about a clue?
One of them will not translate exactly into Spanish
Two of the phrases will end with a past participle, while the other will end in an infinitive.

O.K. it's c)
Here's the reason.

'I have done it' translates as 'lo he hecho', ending in the past participle of the verb 'to do', just as in English, with 'done'

'I would have done it' is 'lo habría hecho', where we use the verb 'haber', in conditional, for 'would have' and end with the past participle of 'hacer'

When you get to 'I could have done it' things come unstuck.
'Could have' is'había podido' and you CANNOT say 'lo había podido hecho'

The issue lies with 'could'.
Even in English, there is no verb 'to can'.
The verb is 'to be able'
So, in Spanish, as I've mentioned in a previous post, the only way to say 'could' is to say 'would be able'

Now, if you do that to our phrase in English, you have to make a significant change to the structure, because you can't say 'I would have been able to DONE it'  so you say 'I would have been able TO DO it'
So, all of a sudden, our sentence doesn't end in a past participle, it ends in an infinitive.
And THAT'S how it translates into Spanish.
'Lo había podido hacer' or 'Había podido hacerlo', which I think sounds better.

Another example of a verb which doesn't behave is 'should'
We use it every day, but what does it actually mean?
If you use 'to have to' instead, I reckon it's a fair match for the verb 'deber' so the structure of 'I should have done it' becomes'I would have had to do it'

OK, it's not an exact match, but you can see how the structure changes from ending in a past participle to ending in an infinitive again, giving us 'Había debido hacerlo'

So, it's worth remembering, if you're struggling to say something in Spanish, think for a moment about what you actually mean in English and see if there's another way of saying it which translates more easily.

Don't forget your New Year's reolution, to practice your Spanish, and have fun doing it.
¡Hasta pronto!

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