How can we unambiguously distinguish between I would and I had, if the native English speaker used the contraction I'd?

For instance, I'd read the newspaper.

We can mean the above sentence as either

I had read the newspaper.
I would read the newspaper.

Any help will be appreciated!!!

  • Can you give an example of a case you are struggling with? Feb 1, 2012 at 20:41
  • @DavidSchwartz:Now i understood with the help of Armen Tsirunyan's wonderful and simple explanation with very good example.Anyway Thanks to All!! Feb 2, 2012 at 5:37
  • I think the English language should right "I would" as "I'ld" but who am I to say
    – user67851
    Mar 5, 2014 at 15:44
  • 1
    There's no ambiguity in speech: the plain form read /rid/ (rhymes with bead) is pronounced differently than the past participle read /red/ (rhymes with fed). But in writing they're spelled the same, so you'll have to rely on context to tell them apart.
    – user28567
    May 23, 2014 at 3:49
  • What are verbs where infinitive and past participle are the same? Vijin tried "read", but infinitive and past participle are pronounced differently, so this is ambiguous only when written.
    – GEdgar
    Jan 30, 2016 at 14:15

5 Answers 5


I would must be followed by an infinitive without to ( or perfect infinitive as in I would have gone). I had must be followed either by an object (a noun phrase, e.g. I had a little lamb, in which meaning it is rarely contracted) or by a verb's past participle. So it's (almost) always possible to distinguish between them by analyzing the words that follow.


I'd go. (go = infinitive => 'd = would)

I'd had. (had = participle => 'd = had)

The only ambiguous case is when the verb's infinitive coincides with its participle.

I'd put. (could be would or had)

But these cases are rare and the meaning can be deduced if more context is provided

  • @@Armen Tsirunyan:+million thanks for your simple and superb example.!!! Feb 2, 2012 at 5:39

It will usually be clear from the context. For example, in the sentence I’d like to have a million dollars, I’d can only be a contraction of I would. By contrast, in I’d been there some time, it can only be a contraction of I had.


It all depends on the context:

I'd followed by the bare infinitive is short for I would as in

I'd be better at this if I trained

while I'd followed by a past participle or a noun is short for I had as in

I'd been better at this than him, but then he trained

Sometimes this can be ambiguous as in the written form

I'd read a book

but even then the wider context may help.


The contractions can be confusing sometimes. However, the larger the context the clearer the meaning will be. If we’re not sure, we must look at the grammatical form which follows the contraction ‘d.

  1. Would is followed by the bare infinitive (infinitive without to): would be, would go, etc.
  2. Had is followed by a past participle: had gone, had had, had been, had spoken, etc.

If it helps, a native "English" speaker & love of grammer, with regard to the understanding of the use of I'd:

I' d = I would vs I had

It is all in the context; "I'd read the newspaper" = I had read the newspaper (meaning, you have read the newspaper. As if you were acknowledging a story/article you both had read, about independently in that day's newspaper)

"I'd read the newspaper" = I would have read the newspaper. Implying, you would have read the newspaper if you got/received the it. - Note: this is improper grammar use, as it would be proper to say, "I would've read the newspaper...") The ambiguity is "read". Present or Past? R-E-a-d (present) or R-E-d (past) <- pronunciation emphasis, not spelling

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