For I would that all men were even as I myself. (1 Corinthians 7:7)

I would to God my name were not so terrible to the enemy as it is. (2H4 I.ii.219-220)

Do these would-constructions mean the same thing?


3 Answers 3


Would in both cases indicates a desire or intent, but the Shakespearean instance is more forceful.

I'm no hermeneutician, but the Corinthians verse opens with θέλω, which is straightforwardly translated as I want or I wish. Merriam-Webster lists this use of would as archaic, whereas OALD simply calls it "literary":

would that… (literary): used to express a strong wish

References to God (or the devil) intensify. Would to God [that] on its own can stand as an old-fashioned interjection, and in such cases the would cannot always be directly substituted with want or wish (How I hoped she would leave him. Would to God!).

  • +1 - this answer is more instructive than mine. I didn't realize (duh) that God was an intensifier. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 17:13
  • @PatrickCălinescu I couldn't say, although I found at least one version of the text that has θελω γαρ, which would suggest optative, but then it should be θελει, I think… I haven't thought about ancient Greek in almost 20 years, so this is already straining my memory. Don't quote me :).
    – choster
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 17:31

The verb will in the past meant wish. This sense is mostly lost in contemporary speech, but can be seen in the saying "where there is a will there is a way".

The modal will we normally use today, is related to this old sense, but still different.

This old sense of will is similar to (and cognate with) the Latin volo, volere, which you probably have in Romanian as well.

In terms of what the above sentences mean, you could read them as:

For I might wish that all men were even as I myself. (1 Corinthians 7:7)

I wish to God my name were not so terrible to the enemy as it is. (2H4 I.ii.219-220)

If you're translating these to Romanian in your head, use the subjunctive.

  • I don't see why it can't be used in the plural.
    – Å Stuart
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 17:05
  • Oh, so sorry. Yes, just as phrase can be plural: there are several phrases in that sentence. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 17:11

Yes, they mean the same thing: they express a "wish". If you substitute wish for would, you will see the construction clearly.

would vb.: (one meaning) I wish: Would that he were here.

You can see it in another (slightly) familiar phrase

Would that I could, but I can't, so I shan't.

This form implies a wishful or idealized alternative to an undesired reality. In other words, the speaker wishes for a different set of circumstances or outcome than the real situation he or she is in, and is called The subjunctive mood.

The subjunctive is a grammatical mood found in many languages. Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred – the precise situations in which they are used vary from language to language.

It is an older form in English, used less frequently today, but seen often enough in early translations of the Bible and other early writings, as well as very formal writing.

  • A rattlesnake is a poisonous snake with scales at the end of it's tail modified to form a rattle. When the snake is threatened and about to attack, it shakes it's tail (it rattles). Eloquent speech is powerful, persuasive, expressive and effective. So is the rattle of a rattlesnake - no one who hears it doesn't know that there is a great danger in proceeding. :) Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 16:53
  • @PatrickCălinescu: I'm confused: "Interesting proverb you've got there". Rattlesnake? Where does Susan, or anyone for that matter, mention a proverb here with a rattlesnake in it?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 18:30
  • @Mitch - on my profile: "There is nothing as eloquent as a rattlesnake's tail." (Native American proverb, Navajo) Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 19:22

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