# Thread: why so many woulds/coulds

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## why so many woulds/coulds

Hello, Teachers.

I often see the use of 'would/could' in a sentence that is in the present tense. Those 'woulds/coulds' are neither the past tense of 'will/can' nor subjunctive forms. I really wonder why the authors use them and what this kind of use suggest.

Take the following sentences for example.

(1) As we have seen earlier, a score of 8 is fairly rare, so to score an overall 7, a candidate would need the following scores: ...
This sentence is in present tense and indicating some facts. Why the author use 'would', not 'will'?

(2) In fact it can be concluded that your speaking score is awarded purely on the basis of your spoken language. In theory it could be possible for a candidate to tell lies and still achieve a high score.
Why the author use 'can' in the first sentence but 'could' in the sencond one? What does this usage imply?

Enydia

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## Re: why so many woulds/coulds

(1) As we have seen earlier, a score of 8 is fairly rare, so to score an overall 7, a candidate would need the following scores: ...

Another way to say the second part of the sentence:
If a candidate wanted to score an overall , she would need the following scores. (conditional)

(2) In fact it can be concluded that your speaking score is awarded purely on the basis of your spoken language. In theory it could be possible for a candidate to tell lies and still achieve a high score.
Why the author use 'can' in the first sentence but 'could' in the sencond one? What does this usage imply?

The first one (can) is not arguable. It's fact. The second one (could) is more hypothetical, so it uses a conditional. ==> If a candidate told lies, it could be possible for her to get a high score. or If a candidate told lies, she could get a high score.

Sorry, I realize it's not easy stuff to grasp.

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## Re: why so many woulds/coulds

Originally Posted by enydia
Hello, Teachers.

I often see the use of 'would/could' in a sentence that is in the present tense. Those 'woulds/coulds' are neither the past tense of 'will/can' nor subjunctive forms. I really wonder why the authors use them and what this kind of use suggest.

Enydia

Over the years, you've probably been taught that modal verbs have tense, Enydia, but the fact of the matter is, in modern English, modal verbs are tenseless. Because they are tenseless they can operate in all time situations. What they do is carry modal meaning into sentences.

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## Re: why so many woulds/coulds

Originally Posted by enydia
Hello, Teachers.

I often see the use of 'would/could' in a sentence that is in the present tense. Those 'woulds/coulds' are neither the past tense of 'will/can' nor subjunctive forms. I really wonder why the authors use them and what this kind of use suggest.

Take the following sentences for example.

(1) As we have seen earlier, a score of 8 is fairly rare, so to score an overall 7, a candidate would need the following scores: ...
This sentence is in present tense and indicating some facts. Why the author use 'would', not 'will'?

(2) In fact it can be concluded that your speaking score is awarded purely on the basis of your spoken language. In theory it could be possible for a candidate to tell lies and still achieve a high score.
Why the author use 'can' in the first sentence but 'could' in the sencond one? What does this usage imply?

Enydia

Are we again discussing forms expressing unreality and having problems with labelling them?

Enydia, the category you are asking about is called ' the present conditional mood' (I already hear the angry shouts of my opponents). In terms of syntax it is used in a clause which expresses an unreal consequence from an unreal condition. The unreal condition may be implied. (Vivemafille has already pointed it out in his post). The simple form of the infinitive shows that the idea of simultaneity is expressed.

To pour some oil on the flames, the modal 'could' here is the subjunctive form of 'can'.

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## Re: why so many woulds/coulds

Originally Posted by enydia
Hello, Teachers.

I often see the use of 'would/could' in a sentence that is in the present tense. Those 'woulds/coulds' are neither the past tense of 'will/can' nor subjunctive forms. I really wonder why the authors use them and what this kind of use suggests.

Take the following sentences for example.

(1) As we have seen earlier, a score of 8 is fairly rare, so to score an overall 7, a candidate would need the following scores: ...
This sentence is in present tense and indicating some facts. Why does the author use 'would', not 'will'?

Think of a teeter totter, Enydia [also called a 'seesaw']. On one end sits 'will' and on the other end, 'would'. The 'would' end represents a situation of non-reality and at the other end, the 'will' end represents reality. As we move from each end, towards the middle of the seesaw, 'would' becomes more real and 'will' becomes more unreal.

When we meet at the middle, we have the choice of either 'will' or 'would'. Now let's look at your example sentence,

As we have seen earlier, a score of 8 is fairly rare, so to score an overall 7, a candidate would need the following scores: ...

In this sentence, you have "a candidate", which means any candidate and in this, it is more indefinite, so it moves more to the 'would' end and 'would' becomes the more likely choice.

This is a situation that sits very close to the middle of the 'would-will' seesaw so it is certainly possible for a 'will' to be used.

As we have seen earlier, a score of 8 is fairly rare, so to score an overall 7, a candidate will need the following scores: ...

As you can see, it means just a slight tilting of the seesaw will/would cause a native speaker to choose one over the other. The choice is often [always ??] made because of small semantic changes. Perhaps, this is why modals can seem so infuriatingly confusing to ESLs.

Let me show you what I mean. I'll change "a candidate" to 'this candidate'.

As we have seen earlier, a score of 8 is fairly rare, so to score an overall 7, this candidate will need the following scores: ...

By using 'this candidate', we have made it more specific, more of a real situation. By doing so, we have moved along the reality/unreality seesaw towards the 'will' end, and the seesaw tips towards reality, so the chance that a native speaker will/would choose 'will' becomes more likely and the chance that a native speaker will/would choose 'would' becomes less likely.

That doesn't absolutely preclude/rule out the possibility that some native speaker/speakers would choose 'would'. The language/semantic situation is such that we sit in that middle range where either could be chosen.

Read and try to digest what I've written above. It's VITALLY important to understanding how the modal pairs like 'will/would' work. They are NOT present and past tense forms. They are tenseless forms.

I'll deal with (2) later. There are different reasons when it comes to 'can/could'.

(2) In fact it can be concluded that your speaking score is awarded purely on the basis of your spoken language. In theory it could be possible for a candidate to tell lies and still achieve a high score.
Why the author use 'can' in the first sentence but 'could' in the second one? What does this usage imply?

Enydia
#
Last edited by riverkid; 19-Jun-2008 at 02:27.

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## Re: why so many woulds/coulds

Originally Posted by vivemafille
Sorry, I realize it's not easy stuff to grasp.
Thank you, vivemafille.
I'm sorry I didn't make it clear. In fact, all of those sentences are from an article talking about the marking system of IELTS (International English Language Testing System). It's written by an IELTS examiner, of course a native speaker.

Originally Posted by Clark
Are we again discussing forms expressing unreality and having problems with labelling them?

Enydia, the category you are asking about is called ' the present conditional mood' (I already hear the angry shouts of my opponents). In terms of syntax it is used in a clause which expresses an unreal consequence from an unreal condition. The unreal condition may be implied. (Vivemafille has already pointed it out in his post). The simple form of the infinitive shows that the idea of simultaneity is expressed.

To pour some oil on the flames, the modal 'could' here is the subjunctive form of 'can'.
Oh, god. I didn't plan to talk about something unreal in this thread at first. While I was in high school, my teacher used to tell me that the use of subjunctive was very limited. But now I find it everywhere...

Originally Posted by riverkid
#
Thank you, riverkid. Your explanation is very detailed and helpful. The confusion about will/would has been obsessing me for a very long time. Thank you very much!
I'm looking forward to your post on can/could.
Last edited by enydia; 19-Jun-2008 at 14:59.

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## Re: why so many woulds/coulds

Hi, Teachers.

I have to say sorry for my mistake. The original text which the sentence (2) came from is as follows:

So in fact it can be concluded that your speaking score is awarded purely on the basis of your spoken language. In theory it could be possible for a candidate to arrive at the interview in dirty old clothes, be implite, invent answers, tell lies and hold unreasonable or controversial opinions and still achieve a high scroe if he or her demonstrated the features described in the marking system—i.e. native-speaker style spoken English. I can add an example from my own experience here. Many years ago in an IELTS speaking test, I interview a young lady who was arrogant, impolite, impatient and quite rude—I awarded this candidate a score of 8 because her spoken English mathched the descriptions in the marking system for band score 8.
You can see that here the use of 'could' is a common example of subjunctive in a sentence with a if-clause, not like what I said in #1.

Now there is still something confusing me.
1
In the text I quoted above, the author used subjunctive (the sentence in blue) to describe an 'unreal' occurrence; and immediately, he took a 'real' example to support his 'unreal' description. Is there anything conflicting? In my amateur opinion, the use of subjunctive is somewhat improper. Can you give me some explanation or advice?

2
There are still much use of 'could' confusing me.
(1) "What shall we do tomorrow?" "Well, we could go shopping."
(2) It couldn't rain tomorrow.
Can 'could' be used in the future tense?

PS
To Riverkid:
I'm expecting your post on 'can/could' all the same. ^_^

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## Re: why so many woulds/coulds

Originally Posted by enydia
Now there is still something confusing me.
1
In the text I quoted above, the author used subjunctive (the sentence in blue) to describe an 'unreal' occurrence; and immediately, he took a 'real' example to support his 'unreal' description. Is there anything conflicting? In my amateur opinion, the use of subjunctive is somewhat improper. Can you give me some explanation or advice?

I don't see any contradiction. The author creates a hypothetical situation and then gives an example from his own experience to prove that such things do happen in life.

2
There are still much use of 'could' confusing me.
(1) "What shall we do tomorrow?" "Well, we could go shopping."
(2) It couldn't rain tomorrow.
Can 'could' be used in the future tense?

(1) Here 'could' indicates a hypothetical action that is communicatively meant to be a suggestion. The action refers to the future.

(2) In this sentence 'could' in the negative form expresses supposition mixed with assurance.

I think in these 2 sentences 'could' has different meanings: (1) - unreal possibility, (2) - supposition.

................

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