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.

How can we unambiguously distinguish between I would and I had, if the native English speaker used the contraction I'd?

For instance, I'd read the newspaper.

We can mean the above sentence as either

I had read the newspaper.
or
I would read the newspaper.

Any help will be appreciated!!!

share|improve this question
    
Can you give an example of a case you are struggling with? –  David Schwartz Feb 1 '12 at 20:41
    
@DavidSchwartz:Now i understood with the help of Armen Tsirunyan's wonderful and simple explanation with very good example.Anyway Thanks to All!! –  Vijin Paulraj Feb 2 '12 at 5:37
    
I think the English language should right "I would" as "I'ld" but who am I to say –  Mary Mar 5 at 15:44
    
There's no ambiguity in speech: the plain form read /rid/ (rhymes with bead) is pronounced differently than the past participle read /red/ (rhymes with fed). But in writing they're spelled the same, so you'll have to rely on context to tell them apart. –  snailboat May 23 at 3:49

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I would must be followed by an infinitive without to ( or perfect infinitive as in I would have gone). I had must be followed either by an object (a noun phrase, e.g. I had a little lamb, in which meaning it is rarely contracted) or by a verb's past participle. So it's (almost) always possible to distinguish between them by analyzing the words that follow.

Examples:

I'd go. (go = infinitive => 'd = would)

I'd had. (had = participle => 'd = had)

The only ambiguous case is when the verb's infinitive coincides with its participle.

I'd put. (could be would or had)

But these cases are rare and the meaning can be deduced if more context is provided

share|improve this answer
    
@@Armen Tsirunyan:+million thanks for your simple and superb example.!!! –  Vijin Paulraj Feb 2 '12 at 5:39

It will usually be clear from the context. For example, in the sentence I’d like to have a million dollars, I’d can only be a contraction of I would. By contrast, in I’d been there some time, it can only be a contraction of I had.

share|improve this answer

It all depends on the context:

I'd followed by the bare infinitive is short for I would as in

I'd be better at this if I trained

while I'd followed by a past participle or a noun is short for I had as in

I'd been better at this than him, but then he trained

Sometimes this can be ambiguous as in the written form

I'd read a book

but even then the wider context may help.

share|improve this answer

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.