Tense about tenses? Get this one right.
One or two seem to constantly cause problems.
Spot the deliberate mistake
If I would have known this impulse was going to become a
lifelong project, I would have run in the opposite direction at
the very beginning.
If I would have known… is the problem here. It’s very easy to get mixed up about the verb in the first half of the sentence and confuse it with the tense of the verb in the second half (I would have run…).
What we’re looking for in the first half is very straightforward: If I had known… leading to I would have run.
Get it right
If I had known this impulse was going to become a lifelong project, I would have run in the opposite direction at the very beginning.
The official name of the “would have” tense is the conditional. For me, running in the opposite direction was conditional on knowing about the never-ending nature of the project. But there’s nothing conditional about my feelings about lifelong projects in general. They’re a fact. And so the verb in the first part is a regular old past tense (it’s called the pluperfect, but you don’t have to remember that): If I had known.
Sometimes this is easier to remember if you vary the phrasing. Had I but known… is the literary version. Or you could say, If only I had known…
And that’s a fact.