A great example I can think of:

"Please, leave! I would be alone!"

With would meaning something like, "I want to be alone." Is this correct, or not?

EDIT: To further clarify, I am not aiming for would like to. My original question/sentence is not a typo.

  • It seems you have added a bounty; perhaps you could explain what it is you are looking for. Apr 12, 2011 at 22:17
  • I just need more people to agree with either of the answers to make me 100% sure. Furthermore, there's something unclear about your answer. I am going to comment on it right now.
    – Frantisek
    Apr 12, 2011 at 22:27

4 Answers 4


"Would" conveys a subjunctive, or conditional, meaning. "I would be alone" implies an unspoken qualification such as "if that was possible" or "if I had my way."

"I would be alone" sounds archaic. It recalls Shakespeare's work for many students, and it is sometimes used to suggest an Elizabethan style of diction. In fantasy fiction it is sometimes used to imply the speaker comes from a chivalric or royal court culture, typically English, sometimes French, and, strangely enough, sometimes in shows with supernatural themes (witches, werewolves, demons). As a result, it is a trite construction in popular entertainment, and is a common target for mock usage as well.

Modern use isn't that different in meaning, but in application. "I would like a beer," for example, is common. Add in the implied "if you have one" or "with your permission," and it can sound timid or deferential, but most people do not take note of that and consider it synonymous with "I will have a beer."

You'll hear a lot of this form in political rhetoric, as it implies an important prerequisite to the intention. "If elected, I would institute a flat tax." You'll also hear it, perhaps not coincidently, as a way to avoid lying without actually countering an allegation or circumstantial evidence: "But I would never steal from my boss because stealing is wrong, and I would never do a wrong thing."

It's also used to suggest an alternate outcome if the conditions of the moment were somehow different. "I would cap my reputation every day if everyone would just wait for my answers."


Yes, it is correct; but it is very old fashioned, and you will rarely hear this spoken in modern English.

In older English, the verb will used to have a stronger sense of desire, want than it has now. I would is the conditional of will; in this sense, it indicates a weaker degree of desire. As you have mentioned, this old usage of would to mean would like is now archaic.

  • First you claim that will used to have a stronger sense of desire, later you claim that in this sense, it indicates a weaker degree of desire. It is confusing. Could you re-check your answer, or point me to the right direction?
    – Frantisek
    Apr 12, 2011 at 22:29
  • @RiMMER: I meant that "would" has a weaker sense of desire than "will", because "would" is the conditional form. The conditional form is theoretically used when there is some explicit or implicit condition: I can do it means just that; I could do it (If you asked me, or if I wanted to, or if the circumstances were reasonably favourable) means that I am able to do it under certain conditions. So would is weakened too because it is conditional upon something explicit or implicit. Apr 12, 2011 at 22:41
  • So if I get you right, in archaic English, the sentence I will be alone means "I desire to be alone", while the sentence I would be alone means basically the same, but the desire is a bit weaker than in the former case?
    – Frantisek
    Apr 12, 2011 at 22:57
  • @RiMMER: Exactly! There is the famous joke about a drowning Scot, who cried: "I will drown, and no-one shall help me!". The Englishman, who used the traditional "shall" and "will", interpreted this as "I want to drown, and no-one should help me" and went along his way. The Englishman would have said "I shall drown, and no-one will help me" if he needed help. The use of "will" to mean "want" is still in use for the first person in some circles in England, or so I believe, where "I shall" is neutral future. For the other persons, using "will" to mean "want" is truly archaic anywhere. Apr 12, 2011 at 23:10
  • Thanks! If you can, edit your answer to reflect the added info from these comments, so that others may learn too. Until then, I'll award you.
    – Frantisek
    Apr 12, 2011 at 23:14

It is normal and common to use would to refer to a present-tense wish.

However, it is very unusual to use would be in the way your example does. A more natural way of stating your sentence would be:

I would like to be alone.

Edit: Actually, based on your tag it now occurs to me that your use of the archaic would be was deliberate. In which case, leave it as is.

  • Can you explain your edit here, please? I don't know that "archaic use" and it would be interesting to know about it, thanks.
    – Alenanno
    Apr 5, 2011 at 18:11
  • @Alenanno: my original post had a tag saying "old-english", but a moderator erased it. I don't know why. probably the "archaic use" came from when my tag was still up
    – Frantisek
    Apr 5, 2011 at 18:13
  • 1
    The moderator is probably correct to remove the tag "old-english": the label Old English is generally used to denote a period when English had specific features such as a case system, not just "any old" previous period of English/archaic usage. Apr 5, 2011 at 18:22
  • @Neil, @RiMMER, I removed [old-english] and just added [archaic], which should clarify things. Apr 5, 2011 at 18:23
  • 2
    @RiMMER, your use of would is archaic, but it is very far from Old English. (Basically, if you can understand it without a dictionary, it ain't Old English. A quick way to remember the distinctions: Beowulf = Old English, Chaucer = Middle English, Shakespeare = Early Modern English.)
    – Marthaª
    Apr 5, 2011 at 18:25

"I would be alone" is just a slight wording on "I am to be alone", which most have already mentioned is an archaic way of expressing your wishes by describing how you want things to be rather than express what you desire.

I can't help but associate such archaic expressions with "snobbishness" such as how a queen might dismiss her servant. Whether that has any truth or not, it's used commonly in films to demonstrate the snobbishness of a character. In all truth, it probably derived from the ruling class's tendency to speak a more archaic form of english in order to preserve it and consequently such usage is strongly associated with the ruling class or high class in general.

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