I have two following examples:

I would always say thank you face to face when I get a present from someone because it's more personal.

If it's a family member I would always send a card.

Could anyone, please, explain to me the usage of "would always" in these examples? I understand the meaning of the sentences, but, first, I'm not exactly sure about shades of meaning. Second, I'd like to understand the underlying grammar rule.

As far as I understand the meaning they both the same meaning as regular zero conditional sentences would have:

I always say thank you face to face when I get a present ...

If it's a family member I always send a card.

It seems to me that these examples don't match any mixed conditionals pattern either because hypothetical meaning of "would"

I would say thank you if you did it for me.

like in (unreal present) second conditional doesn't fit in this case.

So my question is what connotation or shade of meaning "would" add in these two sentences? Would those examples still be correct if we left out "always"?

I tried searching web and different grammar books, I know about many different meanings of "would" but none of those seems to match the pattern.

  • 2
    It is a modal auxiliary that conveys the idea of the customary, the reasonable, the appropriate, etc. With "if" there is also the sense of some contingency.
    – TimR
    Feb 19, 2016 at 12:13
  • Your first examples use "if" to mean "when" or "in those situations where".
    – TimR
    Feb 19, 2016 at 12:19
  • @TimRomano Yes, I know about this meaning of "would" for expressing habits in past, but it seems to me that it is not the case here, because in these examples we speak about present.
    – Choksy
    Feb 19, 2016 at 12:21
  • 1
    Not necessarily in the past. "It is my custom to do x". The meaning is not restricted to the past. Tendencies, inclinations, dispositions, etc.
    – TimR
    Feb 19, 2016 at 12:21
  • @TimRomano Ok, I've found this example for "would" expressing habits in present. Would can express annoying habits which are typical of a person: "Tom would do something like that, wouldn't he? It's so typical of him!" This example also implies conditional meaning: Tom would do that (if he had an opportunity). And it explains why we use "would" for present. But it is said that it express criticism (annoying habit), obviously it is not the case for my examples. So does "would" add any connototation or it means exactly the same thing that regular zero conditional mean?
    – Choksy
    Feb 19, 2016 at 12:46

2 Answers 2


Both 'Will' & 'Would' are modal auxiliaries and the peculiarities of modals are that they take the base form of the principal verbs in addition to modifying the meaning of the main verbs. They are markedly different in this respect from the primary auxiliaries.

An Adverb clause of condition introduced by 'If' creates the situation under which the action of the main verb will take place.

The examples cited above are about real events that always happen or '0' conditional. 'Would' followed by 'always' introduces a concept of universality.

The structure: IF+ PRESENT+PRESENT or

In open conditions that hinge on probabilities the structure is : (IF clause in present),(main clause in'will/will+another modal/imperative). When 'if' presents unreal/hypothetical/tentative, we require a 'PAST-WOULD-MODAL(Mark it!).

"I would say thank you if you did it for for me"– is an example of this 'PAST-WOULD-MODAL"

In the other four examples, the meaning derived is as good as when-clause. It is no condition at all — a present-present structure. The 'modal-would' we use here makes the verb more polite, less pushy. The 'always' there is needed. It leaves the final imprint of conviction and cleans "WOULD" smacking of an unsavoury probability.

  1. I would always say thank you face to face when I get a present from someone because it's more personal.
    • Would always - Conditionally, on all occasions, missing the condition for now. Eliminates occasion scope creep - narrows it to something concrete.
    • Because it's more personal - condition found.
    • Implies it's a possible future event.
    • Carries intent stronger than a simple Will for a future event, going to is too strong in uncertain events.

It's a roundabout way of saying "I (implicit always, or assumed etiquette) thank those who gift me.". Also implicitly means some occasions when it cannot be thanked: face to face.

Deconstruction/details are the same for the second example sentence. Devil's in the details.

Also a very good read about would/will: "Would" vs. "Will"

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