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I know a lot of questions have been asked about would or would have but I haven't found any answers that help me understand this three-party conversation, with C possibly a native speaker:

A: How do I ask for a cup of tea in the USA?
B: Bring me the tea, please!
C: No, I would have never said that.

or

C: No, I would never say that.

What's the difference? Which form is preferred by native speakers?

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Even if the speaker has experienced such an event, the conversation is still about a hypothetical situation. The normal response for C would be to say.

No, I would never say that.

If speaker C wanted to elaborate and bring up specific cases, then the past tense could be used:

No, I would never say that. In fact, I have never said anything like that.

Note that the past tense is used there, but that I've omitted the speculative would. To keep it in would imply that the speaker is eager to correct the notion that he or she did say such a thing. If someone else had made an accusation one wished to deny, the following construction could be used:

I did not say that. I would never have said that.

Here the simple denial is supplemented by an elaboration on the speaker's normal usage patterns, emphasizing the speaker's customary and ongoing aversion to the kind of construction the other speaker had used.

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+1. Just to emphasise that would never have said, as Robusto has used, is much better than would have never said (the order in the question). –  psmears Jul 12 '11 at 12:25
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"No, I would have never said that" is just stating an opinion. The speaker is saying that if he had the chance, he wouldn't have said that.

"No, I would never say that" is more of a kind of "teaching", that is the speaker is trying to make the hearer not to say it. Another example in which you would say it would be:

I would never be rude. It doesn't help.

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