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In English there is a phrase, ''Would have, could have, should have'' which is often used sort of reproachcfully, even to oneself. Alternatively, it is ''Woulda, shoulda, coulda''. I mean for example, ''I should have put the bins out!'' Someone else replies, ''Would have, could have, should have'', sometimes with an eye-roll perhaps.

I wonder how to express same in Spanish.

I know literally, there is ''habría'', ''podría haber'' and ''debería haber''. I see the podcast ''Why not Spanish'' had this in a recent newsletter.

However, I feel this is not a correct way to express this in my context.

Is it a case that other languages like Spanish do not have such an accommodation for this type of phrase? Is it purely an English language type of ''idiom''? I ask this question as it is impossible to find this answer in the RAE and elsewhere.

If one doesn't exist, I feel all you natives must invent one. It feels a little unsatisfactory not to have a modern take on something like this. I mean this respectfully and with a nod as to how languages evolve in an interesting way.

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    Es cierto, ‘habría, podría, debería’ no es muy idiomático. Está bueno para pensar cuál podría ser el equivalente...
    – tac
    Mar 3 at 20:36
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    "must invent one"? Isn't that cultural imperialism in disguise? What about all the Spanish idioms that don't exist in English? Should those be invented? Please. Languages are what they are, they have their own genius.
    – Lambie
    Mar 5 at 18:06
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    I agree they have their own genius and I accept there are expressions in Spanish that have been mentioned as alternatives. I do not accept it is cultural imperialism in disguise.I love Spanish. I'm sure English could also adapt things from Spanish. I add although I am a native English speaker I often relate more to the sound of Gaelic Irish as an Irish person. However, I feel the English expression in this case is very concise and catchy. I think inventing new expressions in a language is better than borrowing words from English when languages are rich.This happens alot in a lot of languages!
    – Bluelion7
    Mar 6 at 14:52

3 Answers 3

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Unfortunately, perfect modals do not work in Spanish the way the do in English. Actually, English is much more versatile than Spanish in the use of the so-called proforms, for example:

A. He didn't come. B. I know, but he should have. (Spanish: debería haber venido / debería haberlo hecho)

In Spanish, the auxiliary "haber" does not work alone and will always require a participle, at least "hecho", to substitute for the main verb.

Some wordier phrases may be used to express that, like the proverbs: "El infierno está lleno de buenas intenciones" or the saying "De nada sirve llorar sobre la leche derramada" (It's no use crying over spilled milk), both used to mean that, rather than speaking or complaining about the past, we should concentrate on the present.

However, we can occasionally use the simple modals in Spanish to criticize somebody's actual doings falling short of their intentions. For example, A might say: Podría ir, o tal vez debería. And B might respond: Podrías, deberías... ¿Por qué no lo haces de una vez?

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    Great answers! Easy to understand. Yes, it is interesting how it works. "Podrías,deberías "works as a handy short retort but I understand the longer phrases work too.
    – Bluelion7
    Mar 3 at 21:35
  • The idiom in English is: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think the whole modal discussion here is moot.
    – Lambie
    Mar 5 at 18:07
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Yes. We can agree that the form "woulda, coulda, shoulda" —short for would have / could have / should have, in any of its six possible arrangements— is a colloquial expression of dismissiveness or disappointment in the English language, that does not work the same when directly translated into a Spanish form.

(Though, that is nothing unusual, as it is often the case with idioms, which are particularly adapted to each language and got their historic power by way of widespread usage and understanding suited to the original tongue)

To express the same using a Spanish phrase I can point you to this Wikipedia entry that correctly brings a (roughly) equivalent idiom:

otro gallo cantaría 2

which conveys the meaning that, in retrospect, had things (actions or decisions) been different, the result would have come vastly altered as a consequence.

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    Yes, that is a similar meaning.
    – Lambie
    Mar 5 at 18:06
  • Linda expresión. Me pregunto si acaso surgió de la canción ‘los dos gallos’ o si por el contrario ésta tomó la expresión que ya existía desde antes...
    – tac
    Mar 8 at 14:15
  • No la conocia a la cancion de los dos gallos. Arriesgaría que la canción se hizo probablemente usando ya esa expresión anterior y conocida. Sería interesante rastrear el origen. Leí por ahí conocerelcastellano.com/dichos/gallo-cantara-cantaria que puede tener un origen biblico en la historia de la última cena, en la que Jesus anuncia saber de su suerte ("antes de que el gallo cante me negarán tres veces")
    – ipp
    Mar 8 at 14:55
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Would have, could have, should have are the past subjunctive or -irrealis- because express something that should have happened, but it did not.

In Spanish the closest we say that expression is -el hubiera no existe- “would have does not exist”

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