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  1. Few people would have been surprised to know another case of corruption in India. (A sentence from a newspaper)
  2. "I came in and ordered some shoes from you." 'Oh! yes, sir. When would that have been, exactly?'
  3. His test appearance would have triggered jubilation in Ludhiana where his grandparents live.
  4. Harbhajan Singh would have been joyed reading that he was at top of batting charts in the just concluded Test series.
  5. Such cases have not been reported in Delhi. Although there is a good chance that like the Mumbai big team many would have been reluctant to go to police.

My question: Why is would + perfect infinitive used in the above sentences whereas it appears that they do not represent the third conditional? They appear to represent a case of prediction. Please suggest a good book in which the use of a modal verb is clearly explained in detail and particularly this use of would.

  6. (A conversation between correspondent of a newspaper and a leader contesting election for MLA.) Correspondent: Would any state have accepted an outsider as a chief minister? Leader: I'm not an outsider.I belong to this state.

My question is: Why is would used here and not will?

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The simple answer is that people speak (and write) their language, which is not always the language that the writers of grammar books specify. But I don't think that answer really helps you. –  Colin Fine Jun 8 '12 at 10:37

2 Answers 2

I think you are right that these are not actually conditionals at all. I think that they are a different kind of construction, expressing that the statement is not known but is a surmise, deduction or suggestion.

"Would have" here is the past of "will have", in the particular meaning of "I guess or surmise or deduce or estimate that".

You can imagine them being shorthand for something like "I don't actually know what happened in Ludhiana when he appeared, but I imagine that there would have been jubilation". In that full sentence, you could say "I imagine that there was jubilation", but if you take out the explicit "I imagine that", then the "was" form becomes a definite assertion, but the "will have" or "would have" form retains its quality of surmise or deduction.

In case 2, this same construction of a surmise is being used for politeness. "When was that, exactly?" would be direct, but "When would that have been, exactly?" is (on the surface) inviting you to surmise when it might have been (though in practice is probably asking you to state precisely and not just guess).

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"Would have" is used in your examples because it's common to use the Modal "would" and its past form ("would have") to talk about imaginary actions or situations (now or in the past).

And I wouldn't say that it's completely unrelated to the third kind of Conditional, because it is still talking about things that aren't real or didn't happen. It's just that the other half of the Conditional (the "If" part) is missing because it's unspoken or understood from the context.

For example,

I didn't mention it to him. He WOULD HAVE been upset.

And to cite just a few from your examples:

  1. You have already been elected as the chief minister. (But if that hadn't been the case,) WOULD any state HAVE accepted an outsider?

  2. Such cases haven't been reported in Delhi. (But if they had been,) many would have been reluctant to go to the police.

  3. He died in an accident. (But if he hadn't), he would have been happy watching his sister walk down the aisle.


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I don't think this is correct. Of Anil Mishra's examples, only no. 6 involves things something that isn't real or didn't happen: the rest all involve things that the speaker is suggesting or surmising might have happened. –  Colin Fine Jun 8 '12 at 23:12
Colin, by "isn't real" or "didn't happen," we mean, in your own words, "surmising things that might have happened." –  Cool Elf Jun 8 '12 at 23:59
"Isn't real" or "didn't happen" is how these things are worded in the grammar books. English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy to be exact –  Cool Elf Jun 9 '12 at 0:03
"Isn't real" or "didn't happen" are indeed two ways of referring to what I have referred to as "contrafactual". My contention is that this is not the construction here. In the examples 1-5, the writer is very clearly suggesting that they did happen and were real, but that they do not know that as a fact. –  Colin Fine Jun 9 '12 at 11:52
Ok have you considered the example: "I didn't mention it to him. He would have been upset"? If this isn't your idea of "contrafactual-they-did-not-know-that-as-a-fact" statement, then I don't see how you can convince me or I can convince you and I suppose we should leave it at that –  Cool Elf Jun 9 '12 at 13:38

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