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I was watching a non-English series with (otherwise quite good) English subtitles and stumbled upon this weird sentence:

It would seem that our situation is even worse than we had feared.

Does this sentence make sense to you? Can it make sense in a certain context?


My own opinion is that the sentence should be either:

  1. It would seem that our situation was even worse than we had feared.

or

  1. It seems that our situation is even worse than we had feared.

I think that "had" is redundant is the second version. Is it not?


Any corrections to my own grammar, including word choices and unnatural sentence structure, in this post and comments are quite welcome too.

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Yes, it's perfectly fine English but is heavily nuanced.

"It would seem" expresses an opinion about the current state of something:

It would seem that we are out of milk

This is roughly equivalent to "I think we are out of milk". It also frequently implies the question of whether the situation is true, to which the listener could respond something like:

Yes, it would seem so.

to mean they agree with the opinion. In addition, the expression is relatively polite since I have expressed my interpretation of the situation rather than saying it is definitively true.

Compare this:

You don't have any money.

to this:

It would seem that you don't have any money.

I might know that you have no money, but by saying "it would seem" it sounds more considerate.

Lastly, the expression reflects the famous British characteristic of understatement in the face of bad news or adversity, to make the situation seem less dangerous or perilous than it actually is.

Well, old chap, it would seem we are surrounded by hungry tigers with no hope of rescue. Might as well break out that whiskey you've been saving, eh?

"Our situation is even worse than we had feared" is also fine. It says that the current situation -- implied by the "is" -- is worse than we previously thought it would be.

You are correct and the "had" is optional, but using it does imply that, at some previous point, they did seriously consider the situation.

Ah, it would seem the situation is worse than I had previously thought. In addition to the tigers, the tree we are in is infested with venomous cobras. We may as well finish the bottle then, what?

  • I have one further question: Are "it would seem" and "it seems" perfectly interchangeable? – VodkaBearBalalaika Mar 29 '17 at 21:25
  • @VodkaBearBalalaika The meaning of "it would seem" and "it seems" is the same, but there are slight differences in nuance. "It would seem" is more formal and more polite -- which is why my examples use English gentlemen, because that's who I picture saying things like "It would seem." – Andrew Mar 29 '17 at 21:28
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Sentence makes sense and is well-constructed.

  • seems vs would seem = both work, but the use of "would" expresses uncertainty
  • is vs was = only depends on whether the situation they're speaking of is the present or happened in the past
  • we feared vs we had feared = use of the past perfect specifies an action that occurred before some other action. (First they feared for their situation, then they assessed their situation and found it to be even worse.)
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I take issue with the milk example, equating "it would seem" with "I think." "It would seem," or even "it seems" implies evidence, whereby "I think" does not. "It would appear" is closer. Something has taken place in order for the speaker to reach this conclusion. I am not cognizant of the names of tenses but I do understand structure and do agree with the overall conclusion. "It would seem" implies evidence, as I said earlier and places the situation in the present with the speaker. How that is interpreted as consideration, or understatement is another matter. "Had feared" suggests that, at some time in the past, the speaker had reassessed the situation and perhaps had dismissed the fear, or had become less fearful, either way, there had been a change. Omitting "had" suggests, to me, at least, no change of mind. An example of "had feared" might be, spotting a wild boar, seeing that it is but a baby and retreating. You breathe a sigh, or two, of relief only to see it return with its parents. An example of "feared" might be one mad axe murderer seeking you out who is joined, subsequently, by another. No change of mind but still a worse situation.

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