What is the meaning of “would”, and how to use it?

What is the meaning of would, and which tense is it used in the following sentences?

For example,

  1. That would be Ram calling. I’ll answer it. (the meaning of would and which tense is used)

  2. The guy on the phone had southern accent.
    That would be Tom. (the meaning of would and which tense is used)

  3. “We saw a police helicopter overhead yesterday morning.”
    “Really? They would have been looking for those bank robbers.” (the meaning of would and which tense is used)

  4. You would have to say/do that. (Why is would used here? What happens to the meaning if would is removed?)

  5. John said he didn’t steal any money.
    Well, he would, wouldn’t he ? (Why is would used here?)

    • Why is would used in sentences 1, 2, and 3 to mean “presumption” instead of using other modals, such as: must and should? Does the meaning change if used others?
    • Can we use will, must, should and could in the place of would, without changing the meaning of sentences?
    • What kind of meanings would it make if they (will, must, should, and could) are used in the place of would?

I’d be grateful if you could answer me.


All modals have several meanings. Most common are

  • the Epistemic sense of a modal, which refers to logical conclusions
    This must be the place, This can’t be the place, This would be the place.

  • The Deontic sense of a modal, which refers to sociocultural obligations and affordances
    You must be careful, You can’t do that, He wouldn’t dare.

The first three uses of would are, as @Cathy points out, equivalent to epistemic must.
I.e, like all epistemic modals, they state a conclusion made by the speaker from
some kind of evidence or presupposition, rather than an assertion of fact.

It seems likely that (1-2), for instance, are short for something like

  • (if I were to guess, I would say that) that would be John/Ram.

(3) is almost the same — (If I were to guess, I would say that) they were …

(4) and (5) are different. For one thing, they’re stressed main verbs, not auxiliaries.
For another, they’re deontic, not epistemic. Deontic would has to do with being willing
(will (n) and will (v) and willing and willful and would are all from the same root).

So, to say that somebody would do something (with a stressed would, and especially with a deleted main verb, as in 4) is to say that they are willing (and therefore likely) to do it under certain conditions.

Note that in (5) there are two modals — deontic would and deontic have to, so what’s being said is that he was willing, and indeed obliged, to say that under certain conditions.

And these are not the only possible senses of would, either.

Source : Link , Question Author : yubraj , Answer Author : John Lawler

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