I have seen a usage of would have v3 which do not fit into the known area of conditional type 3 and is used for completely different purposes.

In a court of law, a judge is asking a woman and a man questions about the case, where the woman accuses the man of stealing her money 2 years ago. So the judge asks them a lot of questions, to understand the case properly, like: How did it happen? When did it happen?

The judge asks the woman, +How old was he at the time he stole the money?"

The woman takes time to think and answers a few seconds later, "Eerrr, hmm.... He would have been 17."

So, she used "would have v3" for a guess or a speculation in the past, not for an unreal situation. It is interesting that she did not give the answer "He was 17". I have never seen such a usage. she could have said "He must have been 17" to empasize a strong guess in the past.

Why do you think she said "He would have been 17" but not "He was 17"? Can we use would have v3 for such a speculation or a guess in the past?

If yes, how will it differ from "must have v3" which is also used for a guess or an assumption in the past.

  • My only assumption so far is that: The boy who they are talking about was somewhere close to 17 years old but he died before he hit 17. So she's emphasizing this particular part that he was between 16 and 17 years. Mar 16, 2017 at 14:51
  • Perfect Continuous Conditional can be used in type 3 conditional sentences. It refers to the unfulfilled result of the action in the if-clause, and expresses this result as an unfinished or continuous action. So logically: He would have been 17 years old (but he wasn't) when he stole the money. Mar 16, 2017 at 14:54
  • "He must have been 17" makes us think that she wasn't sure of his age; it may have been less or more than 16, but "He would have been 17" clearly defines that is was less than 17. She could have said "He was 17" if she certainly new his exact age at that time. Mar 16, 2017 at 14:57
  • 1
    @SovereignSun You would have been right, except the question states that the man in question is alive two years later in the courtroom ;)
    – relaxing
    Mar 16, 2017 at 15:30
  • The man is alive and in the court standing next to the woman.
    – Yunus
    Mar 17, 2017 at 11:27

2 Answers 2


Would here is not conditional or futurive but epistemic — the will/would which expresses an inference, the will/would you use when the phone rings and you say "Oh, that would be Mike—he was going to call about now".

Note that the witness uses the phrase to accompany a quick calculation or effort of memory.

  • Is it fine to say "Oh, that will be Mike"?
    – LE HANH
    Nov 10, 2022 at 9:19
  • @LEHANH Absolutely fine Nov 11, 2022 at 13:43
  • If so, what is the difference between: That (will)/(would) be Mike?
    – LE HANH
    Nov 12, 2022 at 11:48
  • 1
    @LEHANH Nothing in this case. Nov 13, 2022 at 12:23

I suspect the woman's thought process is something like "If we were watching the crime take place, he would have been 17 (but we're not, so he's older now.)"

I think you are right, and this is probably not the best usage of the perfect continuous conditional. But as an example of informal spoken English, we'll give the woman a break.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .