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    #1

    Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    As far as I know "would" can express probability in the past.

    Example

    That happened a long time ago. I would be (was probably) about twenty at the time.

    What I'd like to know is

    1) Is it only used with the verb "to be"?

    Is it fine to say: I don't remember what happened next. They would probably go away. (meaning I think it is very possible that they went away.)

    2) Is it ok to use it in a negative sentence?

    He wouldn't be twenty at the time. (meaning He was unlikely to be 20 at that time.
    Last edited by Kotfor; 21-Feb-2011 at 13:13.

  1. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by Kotfor View Post
    As far as I know "would" can express probability in the past.

    Example

    That happened a long time ago. I would be (was probably) about twenty at the time. I would say "I would've been about twenty..."

    What I'd like to know is

    1) Is it only used with the verb "to be"?
    Is it fine to say: I don't remember what happened next. They would probably go away. (meaning I think it is very possible that they went away.) "They would've probably gone away" would be just about OK, "They probably went away" is better and more natural.

    2) Is it OK to use it in a negative sentence?

    He wouldn't be twenty at the time. (meaning He was unlikely to be 20 at that time."He wouldn't have been..."
    Bhai.

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    #3

    Re: Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    Bhai, thanks a lot.

    Your answers have risen more difficulties in my mind.

    First of all. I somehow see that these two sentences have differnet meanings.
    ==================================
    My interpretation

    1) I would be (was probably) about twenty at the time.
    (the indicative mood)

    Means: The speaker really believes (is pretty much sure) that he was about twenty at that time. Apart from that the speaker is older than 20 years old now.


    2) I would've been about twenty at the time.
    (the subjunctive mood) Ok, if you don't agree that this is the subjunctive mood then let me say it has a hypothetical meaning which belongs to the subjunctive mood.

    Means: The speaker says that he would have been about 20 at that time but he never really was. I know that with the pronoun "I" it is not possible to say, because if you are saying that it means that you are older than 20 now but you never were 20. But with other pronouns it sounds fine.

    He would've been about twenty at the time. (but he died when he was 19.

    I think they convey different meanings especially when we dwell on hypothetical versus real action.
    ======
    Summary

    Things in common between I would be (was probably)/I would have been = They both express probability

    Difference between I would be (was probably)/I would have been = 1) the first one refers to a real action 2) The second one refers to hypothetical action

  2. bhaisahab's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by Kotfor View Post
    Bhai, thanks a lot.

    Your answers have risen more difficulties in my mind.

    First of all. I somehow see that these two sentences have differnet meanings.
    ==================================
    My interpretation

    1) I would be (was probably) about twenty at the time.
    (the indicative mood)

    Means: The speaker really believes (is pretty much sure) that he was about twenty at that time. Apart from that the speaker is older than 20 years old now.


    2) I would've been about twenty at the time.
    (the subjunctive mood) Ok, if you don't agree that this is the subjunctive mood then let me say it has a hypothetical meaning which belongs to the subjunctive mood.

    Means: The speaker says that he would have been about 20 at that time but he never really was. I know that with the pronoun "I" it is not possible to say, because if you are saying that it means that you are older than 20 now but you never were 20. But with other pronouns it sounds fine.


    He would've been about twenty at the time. (but he died when he was 19.

    I think they convey different meanings especially when we dwell on hypothetical versus real action.
    ======
    Summary

    Things in common between I would be (was probably)/I would have been = They both express probability

    Difference between I would be (was probably)/I would have been = 1) the first one refers to a real action 2) The second one refers to hypothetical action
    Think about this:
    "Did your grandfather fight in the first world war?" "Yes, he was born in 1895 so he would've been about nineteen when war broke out." There is nothing hypothetical about this.
    Last edited by bhaisahab; 21-Feb-2011 at 15:08. Reason: Correct typo.

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    #5

    Re: Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by Kotfor View Post
    2) I would've been about twenty at the time.
    (the subjunctive mood) Ok, if you don't agree that this is the subjunctive mood then let me say it has a hypothetical meaning which belongs to the subjunctive mood.
    This is not subjunctive mood.
    As bhai noted, it is not hypothetical.
    John was born soon after I left England, so he will be 13 now. - certainty about the present.
    He will have started school when he was 4. - certainty about the past.

    Margaret was born while her mother was at uni. She would be about 16 now. - more tentative certainty about the present.
    I don't think she was married at the time; her mother would have been most upset. - more tentative certainty about the past.

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    #6

    Re: Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    Ok. Then I think we should find out what the hypothetical form would be.


    - I know your grandfather was a brave soldier. Did he fight in the first world war?
    - I am sure he would haved fought but he had died before it broke out.

    I think now it is hypothetical, isn't it?

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    #7

    Re: Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post

    Margaret was born while her mother was at uni. She would be about 16 now. - more tentative certainty about the present.
    That's it! This is what I find difficult.

    Based on the grammar book by Hornby, I am convinced that it can refer both to the past and the present.

    This is the example from the book

    That happened a long time ago. I would be (was probably) about twenty at the time. - It is clear that it refers to the past.

    Do you rule out such possibility?

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    #8

    Re: Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by Kotfor View Post
    - I know your grandfather was a brave soldier. Did he fight in the first world war?
    - I am sure he would haved fought but he had died before it broke out.

    I think now it is hypothetical, isn't it?
    Yes - counterfactual, even.

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    #9

    Re: Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    That happened a long time ago. I would be (was probably) about twenty at the time. - It is clear that it refers to the past.


    I can't imagine saying this.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

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    #10

    Re: Would with the meaning of probability in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by Kotfor View Post
    Based on the grammar book by Hornby, I am convinced that it can refer both to the past and the present.

    That happened a long time ago. I would be (was probably) about twenty at the time. - It is clear that it refers to the past.

    Do you rule out such possibility?
    No, I don't rule it out, but I think bhai's version reflects what most people would say today. Don't forget, Hornby was writing in 1953, bhai in 2011.

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