Reading a J.K Rowling book, I came across the following:

It's only dying a bit later than I would have, because I am never going to the dark side! 

Is the would have part compete here or does it have an implied unspoken verb after it? For example: would have died. And is it a future or a past conditional in this context? If it's a past one then how could it be used in a future context?

1 Answer 1


Yes, it's an instance of ellipsis, in which the rest of I would have can be retrieved from the preceding words and give the meaning I would have died. We might unpack the meaning as something like It's only dying a bit later than I would have died, if I had been in similar circumstances. As such, it expresses unreal meaning. The speaker hadn’t really been in similar circumstances, so the thought is hypothetical. Such a construction is sometimes known as the third conditional.

I’m not sure what you mean by asking how it could be used in a future context. Can you give an example?


I now understand the intended meaning as ‘to die at the time indicated is merely a matter of dying at a time later than the speaker would have died in any case’. The unspoken part of the sentence is something like ‘if circumstances had been normal’ and the ‘would have’ construction looks back at the past from some time in the future.

  • I read it as ...than I would have died anyway (because we all die) , but +1 anyway. Jun 16, 2012 at 14:42
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    The British edition reads "a bit later than I would have done". It's being used in a future context, because Harry Potter is choosing between two possible actions (doing nothing and doing something, I believe), both of which will likely result in his death in the near future. Jun 16, 2012 at 14:43
  • @TimLymington: Ah, yes, I see. Probably right. Difficult to know without the context, of which I am totally ignorant. I'd assumed that 'it' was something, other than the speaker, that was dying. Jun 16, 2012 at 14:45
  • @Barrie- Thanks. Third conditinal is a past unreal conditional. And in this case Harry is talking about something in the future, so how could he use past conditinal for something that may happen in the future? Or is it a past in the future?
    – Noah
    Jun 16, 2012 at 14:54
  • @Noah: I have edited my answer. I don’t think it helps to think of ‘would have’ + past participle as past conditional, a term that is not widely used anyway. Jun 16, 2012 at 15:47

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