Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

If you use would to describe your action in the future, it means that you plan to do it. But if you use it to describe something in the past, it doesn't mean that in the past you planned to do it, it means you actually did it. Is that correct? For example:

Whenever I would go there I would often notice many suspicious things.

It has nothing to do with planning or intention, even back then in the past. It's not even the past tense form of the present form.

Am I right that the meaning changes?

Also, is there any difference at all with that sentence and this one?

Whenever I went there I often noticed many suspicious things.

share|improve this question
1  
Aside from the question, I would say there is a discordance between 'whenever' (meaning 'every time') and 'often'. These two cannot refer to the same thing. If they do not refer to the same thing, then 'many' should be removed as 'often' and 'many' either appear tautological or else create a meaning different to that intended. –  Karl Apr 20 '11 at 7:46
    
But sometimes tautologies can be useful, right? –  language hacker Apr 20 '11 at 7:55
    
If you give me some specific examples, I might concede. However here, no; any two of the words 'whenever', 'often' or 'many' would be okay but having all three together creates a problem. –  Karl Apr 20 '11 at 8:04
    
How about the second sentence? Could that mean that while at that place the speaker the speaker sometimes noticed many suspicious things, and that this happened often while there? –  language hacker Apr 20 '11 at 10:27
    
Yeah, what you end up with is: "I noticed many suspicious things then I noticed many suspicious things again and again while still there. This happened every time I went there." –  Karl Apr 20 '11 at 10:37
show 5 more comments

2 Answers

This usage of would is considered fairly casual, but the difference between your two examples is only in point of view: whether you're telling the story as your past self (I would often notice) or as your present self (I often noticed). Another common application of would in a similar context is for habitual actions:

I would go there every day after school when I was little.

Which is identical to:

I used to go there every day after school when I was little.

Generally the version with would only makes sense if a time is specified, or at least understood from context. So this is valid:

I remember when I was little. I would go to my grandma's every day after school.

But the second sentence by itself makes the listener wonder when the speaker is talking about. So generally speaking, these are identical:

I used to…
In the past, I would…

share|improve this answer
2  
+1 for mentioning habitual –  sibbaldiopsis Apr 21 '11 at 0:51
    
+1, this is subtle and you have it right. One nit: the first sentence says “there’s no difference”, but of course, there is; you go on to explain the (slight) difference quite neatly. –  Jason Orendorff Apr 22 '11 at 20:54
    
@Jason Orendorff: Haha, good catch. Fixed. –  Jon Purdy Apr 23 '11 at 17:26
add comment

The only nuance I can see is that of perspective.

To me, the second talks about the past from the perspective of the present (looking backwards), whereas the first talks about the past from the perspective of the past (looking forwards).

My 2c worth.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.