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What is the meaning of would, and which tense is it used in the following sentences?

For example,

  1. That would be Ram calling. I'll answer it. (the meaning of would and which tense is used)

  2. The guy on the phone had southern accent. That would be Tom. (the meaning of would and which tense is used)

  3. “We saw a police helicopter overhead yesterday morning.”
    “Really? They would have been looking for those bank robbers.” (the meaning of would and which tense is used)

  4. You would have to say/do that. (Why is would used here? What happens to the meaning if would is removed?)

  5. John said he didn't steal any money.
    Well, he would, wouldn't he ? (Why is would used here?)

    • Why is would used in sentences 1, 2, and 3 to mean "presumption" instead of using other modals, such as: must and should? Does the meaning change if used others?
    • Can we use will, must, should and could in the place of would, without changing the meaning of sentences?
    • What kind of meanings would it make if they (will, must, should, and could) are used in the place of would?

I'd be grateful if you could answer me.

10

All modals have several meanings. Most common are

  • the Epistemic sense of a modal, which refers to logical conclusions
    This must be the place, This can't be the place, This would be the place.

  • The Deontic sense of a modal, which refers to sociocultural obligations and affordances
    You must be careful, You can't do that, He wouldn't dare.

The first three uses of would are, as @Cathy points out, equivalent to epistemic must.
I.e, like all epistemic modals, they state a conclusion made by the speaker from
some kind of evidence or presupposition, rather than an assertion of fact.

It seems likely that (1-2), for instance, are short for something like

  • (if I were to guess, I would say that) that would be John/Ram.

(3) is almost the same -- (If I were to guess, I would say that) they were ...

(4) and (5) are different. For one thing, they're stressed main verbs, not auxiliaries.
For another, they're deontic, not epistemic. Deontic would has to do with being willing
(will (n) and will (v) and willing and willful and would are all from the same root).

So, to say that somebody would do something (with a stressed would, and especially with a deleted main verb, as in 4) is to say that they are willing (and therefore likely) to do it under certain conditions.

Note that in (5) there are two modals -- deontic would and deontic have to, so what's being said is that he was willing, and indeed obliged, to say that under certain conditions.

And these are not the only possible senses of would, either.

  • 1
    @yubrajsharma In a previous comment your wrote "I'm not as week as you think i'm in English" - which actually shows your weakness in English. Likewise your comment "Thank you for suggesting me", also shows your weakness in English because that sentence does not mean what you probably intend it to mean! – TrevorD Jun 3 '16 at 11:09
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    No - I do not propose to get into a discussion with you here. As you've been told before, try using [English Language Learners](English Language Learners). – TrevorD Jun 3 '16 at 11:41
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    Probably best not to personalize the failings of low-rep users. I'm looking at you @TrevorD. – deadrat Jun 4 '16 at 15:11
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    @deadrat I wouldn't normally have done so. In this case there had been a very protracted exchange of comments (now deleted) between OP & JL, in which OP repeated asked for responses to updated/amended Qs; claimed that s/he wasn't an Eng.Learner; that her/his English was fairly good; and that s/he really wanted to understand all about how would is used. In that particular context, and in the light of OP's pestering for repeated explanations when s/he had been told 'No.', I felt it appropriate. – TrevorD Jun 4 '16 at 23:03
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    @TrevorD I'm glad to hear your usual response would have been different. My objection stands. No one can be unwillingly pestered here, and John Lawler doesn't need any assistance in being rude to low-rep users. – deadrat Jun 4 '16 at 23:12
3
  1. That would be Ram calling. I'll answer it.

  2. The guy on the phone had southern accent. That would be Tom.

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

1., 2. and 3. would = must

In 1., 2. and 3., would and must are interchangeable:
1. That would/must be John calling.
2. That would/must be Billy.
3. They would/must have been looking for those bank robbers.

  1. You would have to say/do that.

Trust you to say that. / I'm not surprised you said that. / It's something you would typically say.

Here, would and must aren't interchangeable.
You can't say: "Well he must, mustn't he?" - It's wrong.

  1. John said he didn't steal any money. Well, he would, wouldn't he ?

The meaning of: "Well he would, wouldn't he?" is that it would be typical of John to deny stealing the money, so the conclusion is : "He must have stolen the money."

  • I disagree - see answer from Sphoorthy. And if 1-3 & 4 all mean must, please explain the difference that made you separate 4 from 1-3. – TrevorD Apr 17 '16 at 11:34
  • @TrevorD : In 1., 2. and 3., would and must are interchangeable: 1. That would/must be John calling. 2. That would/must be Billy. 3. They would/must have been looking for those bank robbers. But in 4., would and must aren't interchangeable. You can't say: Well he must, mustn't he? It's wrong. The meaning of: Well he would, wouldn't he? is that it would be typical of John to deny stealing the money, so the conclusion is : He must have stolen the money. – Cathy Gartaganis Apr 17 '16 at 13:18
  • Thanks for the explanation: I didn't understand that from the brevity of your answer. May I suggest that you expand your answer to make that clearer? – TrevorD Apr 17 '16 at 13:23
  • @TrevorD You're welcome, and thanks for the suggestion. – Cathy Gartaganis Apr 17 '16 at 15:19
  • I've (rather belatedly!) taken the liberty of reformatting your answer to put the comments alongside the relevant sections. Hope that's OK. – TrevorD Jun 3 '16 at 11:30
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  1. In sentence one, That would be John calling. I'll answer it, the word would is used as a way of expressing your opinion. It can also be understood as a way of expressing an informed decision based on information you might know. For example, you were expecting John to call you at that time. Since you got a call at the specified time, it's reasonable to assume that it was probably John calling.
  2. In sentence two, The guy on the phone had a southern accent. That would be Ram, the word would is again used in the same way as in sentence one. You're making an informed decision or conjecture. What the sentence means is that, the person talking on the phone is most likely Ram. He might not be Ram. But YOU think it is highly likely.
  3. Again, in sentence three, We saw a police helicopter overhead yesterday. They would have been looking for those bank robbers, the word would is again used to make a conjecture. You are using it to make a statement regarding something that is highly likely.
  4. In sentence four, John said he didn't steal money. Well, he would, wouldn't he? , you use the word would in conjunction with the word wouldn't to make a statement to mean that it was obvious that John wouldn't admit to his theft. Since, in most cases, thievery is frowned upon, no one would own up to thieving. So, when you use would here, it can be understood to mean that the logical course for John to follow is to NOT own up to his illegal action and thus, John doesn't plead guilty, saying that he hadn't committed the theft.
  5. In sentence five, You would have to say that, the word would is used to signify that you were REQUIRED to say that. Or rather, that the best course of action was to say that. Another way to look at it is that you had no other choice but to say that.

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