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Please read the following passage. I will post my question at the end of it.

Here is the passage:

At home I locked myself in. Jason, my lawyer and lyn sent texts simultaneously at the point the announcement was made. Lyn would have been sending texts consecutively for 15 minutes. Apparently 35 newspapers in the world carried the news on the front page, including the New York Times. There were 10-and 12 page supplements in the British papers.

My question is this:

Why is it "Lyn would have been sending..." and not "Lyn would be sending..."?

In other words, isn't would have done used in conditional sentences such as

If you had taken a taxi, you would have arrived here in time.

10

Among other uses, the auxiliary verb, would, is used to express an assumption, presumption or expectation in the past. The "would (and in some cases should) + present perfect" is formed with the present tense of have, and the past participle of the verb

would/should + have + past participle

  • Someone called after you left but didn't leave a message. That would have been Cathy, probably.
  • I would have thought that it was rather difficult

  • The letter should/would have arrived by now. (I expect it has arrived.)

With action or dynamic verbs the progressive form can be used instead to emphasise the activity and to suggest the activity started in the past and was in progress for a period of time.

We saw a police helicopter overhead yesterday morning. | Really? They would have been looking for those bank robbers.

Despite the appearance of would, this is not the past subjunctive because there is no "if-clause" (protasi) present in the sentence and none is implied. The subjunctive is used to indicate conditions that aren't true, that might have happened in the past, but didn't. In the example above, however, the speaker is speculating as to what the police were doing with the helicopter at that time of the morning. Knowing that a bank had been robbed that same day, he assumes that the police were looking for the bank robbers.

Compare that sentence with this one:

They police would have been looking for those bank robbers yesterday morning (but they didn't), if they had bought a helicopter (but they hadn't bought one).

In the if-clause the police didn't buy a helicopter therefore, they couldn't search for the robbers yesterday morning. The subjunctive mood tells us the hypothetical result of a contrary fact in the past.

Returning to the OP's passage

At home I locked myself in. Jason, my lawyer and Lyn sent texts simultaneously at the point the announcement was made. Lyn would have been sending texts consecutively for 15 minutes. Apparently 35 newspapers in the world carried the news on the front page, including the New York Times.

Here the narrator, Sir Alex Ferguson, is assuming what Jason and Lyn were doing while he was announcing his dramatic and unexpected retirement as football manager of Manchester United to his players in the dressing room. During those 15 minutes, Alex Ferguson presumes that Lyn was sending texts to newspaper editors all around the world.

Background Information

Sir Alex Ferguson, a former Scottish football player and one of the most successful British and European football managers of all time. He managed Manchester United from 1986 to 2013, winning a grand total of 13 Premier League and two UEFA Champion league titles.

Sources: Sir Alex Ferguson My Autobiography
Advanced Grammar in Use Martin Hewings (units 7, 8, 99)
Advanced Language Practice Michael Vince (Unit 12 Modal auxiliaries 2: past, page 66)
A Practical English Grammar A.J. Thomson A.V. Martinet (160 will and should for assumptions; 231 C should/would have expected + infinitive construction)

  • Hey Mary Lou, you wouldn't happen to have a PDF of the source laying around, would you? I have seen many variations of the grammatical rule and am wondering how encompassing the rule should be, given your helicopter example and this youtube.com/watch?v=A5OTosLKeUQ at 0:42. ;) – SurvMach Nov 10 '13 at 13:45
  • The sources which I found on the net I linked to, the other references are books which belong to me. Sorry. Good Youtube link! Were you curious about the phrase: I was stepping over what I should've been doing"? – Mari-Lou A Nov 10 '13 at 13:47
  • Can you think of anything besides "past perfect + would + present perfect continuous" and "past perfect + would + simple present"? – SurvMach Nov 10 '13 at 13:55
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    +1. This is the only answer this far that does not misparse/misinterpret the meaning of this ‘would have been texting’. Good explanation, too. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 10 '13 at 14:40
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    Yeah, just needed to confirm because I feel rules often bind expression and this instance sounded perfectly fine in speech. Let me divert you for a bit youtube.com/watch?v=TWfph3iNC-k. Thanks. – SurvMach Nov 10 '13 at 14:43
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Subjunctive Mood

Lyn would have been sending texts consecutively for 15 minutes. = Acutally Lyn didn't do it.

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    But in the OP's passage it's clear that Lyn did continually send texts for 15 minutes. Lyn and James were actually sending texts, so this is not the conditional perfect progressive as it might look at first hand. – Mari-Lou A Nov 9 '13 at 19:38
-1

That is an 'imagined' situation. I'd like to say,

It was a surprise to me that she sent texts so fast,
because it usually took about 15 minutes for her to do it.

Here is a hypothetical statement that I think is possible;

(If she had not been with my lawyer, Jason),
Lyn would have been sending texts consecutively for 15 minutes.
(Maybe he was good with typewriters, so he sent texts instead of her.)

Sometimes you'll need to guess a hypothetical 'if' in the context. It's not always explicit.

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    Think he means if she text so many newspapers that 35 carried on the front page, and 10–12 had suppliments, he imagined that she would need to have sent texts for 15 minutes solid. +1 on "would have" = author is imaginging the scenario, but I think in this case, the author is imaginging it because he's not present, rather than it being completely hypothetical. – anotherdave Nov 9 '13 at 18:14

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