Can we use both would have and would in non conditional past statements? For example:

Last year during the summer, I would go home on weekends. past habitual

Last year during the summer, I would have gone home on weekends.

Last year during the summer, I would have completed three projects every month.

What are the differences between these usages? And how to differentiate if it's conditional or not?

  • I've edited your last example, partly to remove the typo, and partly because there's no point in having extra words that contribute nothing to either the sense or the grammar that you want us to consider. Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 23:31

2 Answers 2


Last year during the summer, I would go home on weekends.

As OP correctly says, past habitual - he usually/always went home on weekends. No problem.

Last year during the summer, I would have gone home on weekends.

As TimLymington says, native speakers might be tempted to interpret this as an incomplete statement, with the unstated continuation "...but because of [some excuse] I didn't". But that's only because we're struggling to find any way to make sense of a rather unlikely utterance, so I suggest we consider a simpler one...

Last Friday night I would have gone to the pub.

Again, it's possible there's an unstated "...but my wife wouldn't let me."

But if the speaker had just been asked "Where were you last Friday night?", it would be a perfectly normal and complete reply. In such a context, the speaker may be implying that he's normally in the pub on Friday nights, so he would have been there on that particular occasion. Or he may be implying that although he's not absolutely certain, it would turn out that he was there, if the matter were to be investigated more thoroughly.

Last year during the summer, I would have completed three projects every month.

This one somewhat complicates the issue, because three projects every month automatically creates a past habitual context. Native speakers don't feel tempted to assume there's an unspoken "...if I hadn't lazed around the pool every day.", though they might expect a follow-on along the lines of "but I think I could only manage two projects a month this year."

The fact of the matter is that whatever the textbooks say, people often use would have [verbed] in that way. Semantically, there's no real difference between OP's version and...

Last year during the summer, I would complete three projects every month.

...or indeed...

Last year during the summer, I completed three projects every month.

As pointed out, these are not good examples for getting to grips with usage of would [have], because phrases like during the summer and three projects every month blur the focus on exactly what time we're talking about, and what exactly might have been habitually repeated.

  • Thank you for the well written response. But I am still confused. Last year, I would sit in my room, open my Facebook, and by the time I realized, I would have wasted 3 hours. Why can't we use *would here instead of would have? It can be inferred from your and TimLymingtons' explanations that these usages are not very common, and native speaker might tend to avoid it. If that's the case, how would we translate something like this to a past tense: Next month I will have completed my first running competition by this time. I am sorry if I sound naive.
    – Noah
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 2:24
  • 1
    @Noah: Your "Next month I will have..." makes little sense to me. Your idea of linking "next month" to "this time" isn't something most people do. Perhaps you mean "a month from now" (i.e. on [or about] the same day within the month as today). You often complicate things unnecessarily in your examples - you should look to cut out any elements that aren't part of what you really want to analyse. Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 2:52
  • Yea, a month from now. But you didn't answer my questions.
    – Noah
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 3:37
  • For example, a month from now I will have married her.
    – Noah
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 3:39
  • @Noah: That's better! You'd cast that into past tense as either "A month from then/later I married her" (simplest, and most common). Or in a more unusual context, perhaps, "I reluctantly agreed to meet my 'blind date', little realising that a month later I would have married her". But I'd advise you to avoid that second version. There are sentences where it can work, but this example isn't really one of them - mostly it just ends up seeming "clunky". Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 12:45

I'd say the answer to your first question is No, which renders the rest moot. Your first example, as you say, is expressing a habit rather than a specific action. The second should really be a conditional, but might be taken as a self-deprecating enthymeme, with "but I only managed it once or twice" (or something similar) understood; should have would be better. I have no idea what your third example would mean. (Would there being enthymemic conditional; ...if it were a grammatical sentence.)

  • Swan's book say that we can. What alternative would you recommend to the first one? I don't see this to be conditional, for example: Every time in the summer, I would go home, and before I realize, I would have wasted all my time.
    – Noah
    Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 23:25
  • 1
    @Noah: Neither I would have nor I would is an alternative to I did. Each of them can be used in certain rare contexts, but before you try to tackle those, you would be better off getting the simpler things right, such as says rather than say and where you can use alternative for and alternative to. Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 15:34
  • Thank you for commenting that out. I didn't understand the alternative for and alternative to part? Am I using it incorrectly? Google Books spit out a large usage of the same structure. Any idea?
    – Noah
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 16:03

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