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Is it grammatically correct to report a rumour using the conditional ('would be', 'would have') to express the simple present ('is', 'has')?

Supposing that the story is not a confirmed fact regarding a royal family's new carriage:

According to press report, the royal family has a new carriage.

To avoid possible accusations of getting the facts wrong, could we reword the sentence above as follows?

According to press report, the royal family would have a new carriage.

Would that be grammatically correct?

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4 Answers 4

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You need to analyse "conditionals" in three different moods.

  • Optative: Expressing a wish, where the fulfillment is possible. The optative is a polite form of speech.

  • Speculative: Expressing a hypothetical situation implying that the fulfillment is possible.

  • Subjunctive impossibility: Expressing a hypothetical situation where the fulfillment is impossible.

These conditionals are often confused by the non-native speaker with the past and past perfect tenses.

Let us look at various examples by comparing with the assertive/non-conditional statement.

  • Present Assertive (of a future action):

    I will have a beer. I will drink beer, when you place it on the table.

  • Present Optative (using the past tense):

    I would like to have a beer. I would drink beer if you placed it on the table.

  • Infinite Assertive:

    She drinks beer. She drinks beer that you place on the table.

  • Infinite Speculative:

    She might have beer. She might drink beer that you placed on the table.

  • Past Assertive:

    She had a beer. She drank the beer, after he placed it on the table

  • Past Speculative (using the past perfect):

    She could have had a beer. She would certainly have drunk it, if he had placed it on the table.

  • Infinite Assertive:

    Stars are little twinkling diamonds in the sky. I wonder how they twinkle.

  • Infinite Subjunctive/impossibility:

    If stars were little twinkling diamonds in the sky, I would wonder how they twinkled.

  • Past Subjunctive/impossibility:

    If stars had been little twinkling diamonds in the sky, I would have wondered how they would have twinkled.

  • Past Speculative:

    Stars could have been little twinkling diamonds in the sky. Our ancestors might have wondered how they had twinkled.

To answer your question: With the above illustrations, you should see that there are subtle differences between the various moods and the difference between "might", "could" and "would".

The press often masquerades speculation as asserted facts. By saying the following, the writer is asserting it as a fact.

According to press report, the royal family has a new baby.

To honestly express a speculation, you would write

According to press report, the royal family might have a new baby.

To express the same speculation in more respectful terms

According to press report, the royal family could be having a new baby

Do not confuse with the optative where the royals are deciding whether to have a new carriage, but have not decided to have one.

According to press report, the royal family would have a new carriage.

Do not confuse with the past perfect retrospective

According to press report, the royal family would have had a new carriage.

Do not confuse with the permissive optative, where the royals are given the permission to have a new carriage.

According to press report, the royal family could have a new carriage.

Difference between "have/had" and "have/had had"

People are often confused when to use "have had". It is actually the confusion in the differing use of of have. The application of "have" in your sentence reveals that confusion. Therefore, it would not express your intention accurately.

According to press report, the royal family would have a new carriage.

"Have" here is not the auxiliary tense verb "have". In your sentence "have" is replaceable by "get".

According to press report, the royal family would get a new carriage.

The following illustrates the meaning of the second "have", where the first "have" is the usual auxiliary tense verb:

I had had breakfast = I had eaten breakfast.

I had had a baby = I had given birth to a baby.

I had had brandy = I had drunk brandy.

We had had wars = we had fought wars.

In conclusion

Therefore, my advice is,

According to press report, the royal family could have had/acquired a new carriage.

To speculate "more assertively", you may write,

According to press report, the royal family should have acquired a new carriage.

You need not use the subjunctive form to express a speculative. The following form would be much better.

According to press report, the royal family may have acquired a new carriage.

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Geek, very nice exposition of moods and tenses. "By saying the following, the writer is asserting it as a fact. 'According to press report, the royal family has a new baby.'" Here is my understanding: Reporting what I know to be fact because I have direct evidence or the evidence is so solid it amounts to the same thing: "A has done X." Reporting fact (defined as above) but with proper attribution: "As first reported by P, A has done X." Studiously neither endorsing nor calling into question while relaying what someone else reported: "According to P, A has done X." –  Eugene Seidel Apr 1 '12 at 9:33
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No, your second sentence would not supply the meaning you intend. By including the reporting phrase, "according to the press," you have sufficiently indicated that you don't know about this first hand, and that it may not be a fact.

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Yes, I agree. Wikipedia at en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_modal_adverbs states: Modal adverbs are used to express the speaker's view of the truth value of a proposition (a clause or sentence) with which it is associated. They do not need to be single words. I prefer Fraser's labelling of them as a subset of pragmatic markers, and sub-classification: Hearsay Markers: In contrast to evidentials, which signal [solely] the speaker’s confidence in the truth of the basic message content, hearsay markers are comments about the type of source of the speaker's information. –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 12 '12 at 15:42
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Typically if the "rumour" is believed, then it is stated as in your first sentence:

According to [the] press report, the royal family has a new carriage.

If you have reason to doubt the press report you could use 'would have' but phrased this way:

The press would have us believe that the royal family has a new carriage.

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+1 for the second example featuring the "would have us [verb]" construction but a minor quibble on the first: this is quite bland and non-judgmental, and to me it would seem that no opinion as to the veracity of the report is expressed. –  Eugene Seidel Mar 31 '12 at 20:21
    
@EugeneSeidel I look at it this way: If I'm repeating this information then I am propagating the information. My motives for doing this may vary but the intention is for it to be believed. Of course intonation and context could alter the interpretation, but by itself I expect that the person who uttered statement 1 intends for the listener to believe the information being provided. –  Jim Mar 31 '12 at 20:38
    
@Jim: So (according to you!) if I say According to Anaximenes of Miletus, the earth is flat, this implies that I also believe this, and am trying to get you to get you to think it too! –  FumbleFingers Mar 31 '12 at 20:51
    
Hence my "context and intonation" caveat. Here, the context is so well understood that it is implicit. But you are expecting me to believe that Anaximenes said this, 'according to wikipedia'... –  Jim Mar 31 '12 at 21:14
    
@Jim Any time there is a breaking news story attracting a great deal of attention, one or several media outlets will be "ahead of the pack" in their reporting. Generally, other media will relay these accounts to their readers as, "According to the Podunk Press, so-and-so did X." I am having a hard time perceiving an intention for their readers to believe what the PP reported. –  Eugene Seidel Mar 31 '12 at 21:52
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It would not be grammatically correct because it is not a conditional statement. The royal family having a new carriage is not contingent upon the press report. The press report is simply the source of the information and the main clause should accurately reflect the tense it used.

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Agreed. Nobody would quibble about 'The press report read: "The royal family has a new carriage." ' Well, they may want to punctuate differently, I suppose. And perhaps they'd prefer an analysis of the usual accuracy of the paper involved. And of the person citing the press report. And information on who was actually paying for the thing. –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 12 '12 at 15:58
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