Is there any difference between the two standalone statements below:

She sat on my chair

She would sit on my chair

I emphasise standalone because it is clear to me what a statements such as "I knew that she would sit on my chair" means; it is expressing a future from the perspective of the past.

It is also somewhat easier for me to comprehend the meaning of a statement such as "She would have sat on my chair", which is a modal perfect statement; it is expressing an action (of sitting) that would have been completed just prior to the statement's construction in a hypothetical present.

But I don't get the difference between the simple modal and the simple past, and to me, they seem largely interchangeable. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  • Does this answer your question? The habitual past "would" versus "simple past" tense @Jon Hanna's answer is very helpful. Jun 7 '20 at 9:48
  • It does @EdwinAshworth; thanks. I suppose the conclusion from that post is that they are broadly interchangeable, and that is what I sensed as well.
    – genesis
    Jun 7 '20 at 10:04
  • Far from it. They mean very different things. Jun 7 '20 at 11:30
  • It is, if I wanted to emphasise a habitual nature yes. "She would wait for her long lost love" sounds like an inherent quality rather than a one-off event "She waited for her long lost love". But this is too nuanced to make a fundamental difference I think to what is being expressed, especially if directed to a non-native reader.
    – genesis
    Jun 8 '20 at 9:21
  • (1) You've chosen a tricky verb, for a start (though most are). 'She sat on my chair' has two primary meanings ( punctive she sat down on my chair / and durative she sat [there] on my chair) which must be considered even before we look at comparisons / contrasts in the implications of the sat / would sit choice. And (2) asking about the standalone statements is awkward, as there's always some degree of informing context in real life examples. But 'would sit' is almost certainly habitual past, and most likely durative. 'Sat', sans context, is most likely semelfactive (one-off), but ... Jun 8 '20 at 11:15