4

I know there are questions with similar titles, but I've checked and they aren't asking what I'm asking.

I've recently started working with a guy from Nigeria, and in our discussions I've found myself a bit uncertain about what he means by certain things. The biggest one that stands out is how he uses the word 'would'.

For example, if we're discussing an issue and we're both uncertain about how to proceed, he might say the following: "I would ask John how to proceed."

Now to me, raised American but living in England, that sounds most like a suggestion: it's a suggestion to me to ask John.

But after clarifying with him, I'm certain that he actually meant, "I will ask John". When he says "I would do x", he is not making a suggestion, he is telling me what he is going to do.

What precedent does this use of the word 'would' have? Is it an archaic form that has continued use in certain parts of the world? Is it unique to certain African English-speaking countries? I'm curious about the source of it.

Not sure if I've tagged the question correctly. Please let me know if there are more suitable tags.

2
  • It's certainly a "non-standard" usage. Feasibly motivated by misguided extrapolation from the fact that in some "imperative" contexts, Would you sit down? is more "deferential / polite" than Will you sit down? - as can be proved by using NGrams to show that the "would" version of that request is far more likely to include the word please. So effectively, perhaps the guy is just being what he thinks of as "polite". But I can't say whether this usage is peculiar to just your colleague, or to Nigerians in general. Oct 1, 2021 at 12:42
  • It feels like an archaic use to me.
    – Barmar
    Oct 1, 2021 at 23:28

2 Answers 2

1

Nigeria is a country with a fairly wide linguistic diversity.

Although English is the official language in many areas (towns), English is not used as the main language.

Will and would do not have the same etymologic origin, being already in old English quite differentiated their use; being wolde the archaic form of Would and that it was already the past tense of willan, which was the way of saying will.

It is important to know if the person speaks English as their mother tongue or if they have learned it; since it's possible that it is just confusion by the speaker.

Languages spoken in nigeria

Etymologies of will and would

1
  • "Will and would do not have the same etymologic origin, being already in old English quite differentiated their use; being wolde the archaic form of Would and that it was already the past tense of willan, which was the way of saying will." The word "already" refers to a situation that had come into being before some other, so it is rather confusing to just say "X already Y" without any clear thing that it is already with respect to. And the semicolon is supposed to introduce an independent clause, but there's no main verb after the semicolon. Oct 6, 2021 at 3:22
0

The word "would" is used with a stated or implied condition. I would like to visit Greece implies that given certain conditions were filled eiher sufficient time or money, Greece is on your bucket list. Would you sit down sounds like a request. Will you sit down sounds more like an order. Some people use would when the subjuntive is called for so instead of saying, "If I were in your place" they say "If I would be in your place." .

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.