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I know that WOULD can be used to talk about past habits, just like USED TO.

"I used to take a walk every morning."

"I would take a walk every morning."

I also know that WOULD should not be used for stative verbs, such as LIKE or KNOW.

"I used to know a lot about music as a kid." (correct)

"I would know a lot about music as a kid." (incorrect)

However, I'm a bit confused about the prohibition of using WOULD with verbs that are NOT stative, but that represent a "permanent situation".

"I used to work from home." (correct)

"I would work from home." (incorrect)

I would like to understand when exactly a verb represents a "permanent situation", and whether there is a list of verbs that are used to represent such situations. I've seen plenty of examples with WORK, but I feel that I could come up with phrases where WORK could be used alongside WOULD.

"I used to work every day, without weekends." (correct)

"I would work every day, without weekends." (this one feels correct to me, because of the use of EVERY DAY)

Am I correct in my evaluation above?

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  • "I would work from home" is fine with a little padding: "When feeling unwell, I would work from home" / "I would work from home during the winter". It sounds dire, admittedly, standalone. Jan 25 at 20:13
  • "I would work from home." (incorrect) -- There's nothing wrong with "I would work from home" but it requires adverbial support of some sort. -> "In 1993/America/the circumstances, I would work from home." -- "I would know a lot about music as a kid." (incorrect) More adverbial support: "I was popular at school. Back then, I would know a lot about music. I even knew a few band members - and the other liked that." -- Likewise: "Before I retired, I was a teacher and I would know the names of everyone in the school." (correct)
    – Greybeard
    Jan 25 at 20:30
  • It seems to me it’s a question of perspective—whether you are recounting the past from the present (I used to work every day) or whether you are speaking from your perspective in the past (I would work every day, except on weekends, when I would go to the beach). I disagree with @Greybeard—to me you need “Back then, I knew a lot about music” and “I knew the names of everyone . . .”
    – Xanne
    Jan 26 at 0:50
  • The sentence, "I would work, without weekends" sounds fine to me, albeit especially so from within a context supplying past illustrative conditions, e.g., when the listener knows the speaker is talking about past habits.
    – Pound Hash
    Jan 29 at 22:48

1 Answer 1

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“Would” is an old subjunctive or past-tense form of “will.” It is especially appropriate when volition or exertion is involved, which is not possible with stative verbs: however it is actually possible with stative verbs to describe a future in the past, such as the consequence of an action or a conditional result even if the conditions are unstated.

“I would know a lot about music as a kid” sounds strange by itself because it meets none of the above criteria; however you could say: “I would know a lot about music as a kid (if put to the test).” This is a conditional use in a past tense and quite acceptable to describe a habitual result of a condition if the condition is clear fron the circumstances.

With another stative verb, you could also say, “I would be really tired every time we went for a long run.” This is simple a backshift in time of: “I will be tired every time we go for a long run.”

To use “used to” requires that the past situation no longer applies to the time of speech. Using “would” generally implies how the will of the subject was or some kind of habitual result in the past.

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