I'm contemplating these two sentences:

I think it would be a better idea to show you my works.

I think a better idea would be to show you my works.

as answers to a question "Can you tell me something about your art?"

  1. How are they different?

  2. Where is the emphasis in each of the two sentences?

  • Just thinking out loud here, but it seems that your first version might be pragmatically preferable. – F.E. Jul 16 '15 at 21:47
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    I think you would get a better idea if I showed you my works. – Jim Jul 16 '15 at 21:59
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    Note: Usually an artist would say "showed you my work", uncountable. – chasly - supports Monica Jul 16 '15 at 22:25
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    To my ear, the first seems ever so slightly more like it implies the person asking the question has had a bad idea. Very slightly, though. – phoog Jul 16 '15 at 22:26
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    Doesn't it mean showing you my work would be better than telling you about it? Oh, yes it does. I missed that. Thanks Araucaria; sorry, IGO. – Margana Jul 17 '15 at 21:23

From a purely native speaker's (non-linguist) perspective: there is essentially no difference in the 'meaning' of these sentences. Basically they both say

It is better to show you my work(s).

Would in English is a softening word, that is, a word or phrase which makes us sound less demanding.

For comparison,

  • Turn down that music.
  • Would you turn down the music, (please)?

In the same way,

I think it would be a better idea...

is softer, less assertive than

I think a better idea would be

Because you are asserting your preference over the person who asked you about your art, the would softens the response a bit.

Semantically, I'm not sure of the difference. Would indicates the consequence of an imagined event or situation. In the first, You're imagining that your idea is better (softer). In the second, you're pretty sure your idea is better, and are imagining that showing your work is better than speaking about it.

I think.

  • Don't both sentences have would in them, though old bean? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 17 '15 at 12:16
  • @Araucaria - Trust me, I'm not at all certain of this explanation. That's why we are fortunate to have people like you here! – anongoodnurse Jul 17 '15 at 17:41
  • I'm with @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I don't see either as being softer than the other – Kevin Mar 11 '20 at 20:08
  • People disagree all the time. I gave my answer. Buty te person you should be agreeing with is Dr. Lawler, a professional (and excellent) linguist, so there! Read his answer, and then you'll you know. – anongoodnurse Mar 11 '20 at 21:07

The Original Sentences are:

It would be a better idea to show you my works.

A better idea would be to show you my works.

(The initial I think adds nothing but syntactic complexity to either sentence, so let's ignore it, OK?)

The Original Questions are:

  1. How are they different?

  2. Where is the emphasis in each of the two sentences?

(1) is easy. The two OS differ in that the first one has undergone a variety of the Extraposition transformation. That takes a sentence and rips it into pieces before reassembling it with a dummy pronoun subject, and the original subject on the other side of the verb phrase.

  • To chop broccoli is his fondest dream.
  • It is his fondest dream to chop broccoli.
  • That he's smiling like that makes me nervous.
  • It makes me nervous that he's smiling like that.

It's very common, especially with that-clauses and infinitive clauses as subjects.

(2) is not easy, at least as it's phrased, because it's not clear what is meant by emphasis, and what it might mean for this emphasis to be located at some point in the sentence. Emphasis has a number of meanings in English, but one of them has to do with syllable stress (The emphasis is on the second syllable in "bedraggled".)

However, if emphasis has anything to do with meaning, it's not anything that can be answered by syntax, because there's no meaning difference between two sentences related by a transformation. That's what "syntactic transformation" means.

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    It's so nice to see that you're still involved in the community. Nice answer, too, as always. – anongoodnurse Mar 11 '20 at 21:10

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