It is likely that he went there yesterday.

I want to paraphrase the sentence above using a modal verb. Which of the followings is the best?

0) He will have gone there yesterday.

1) He would go there yesterday.

2) He would have gone there yesterday.

3) He should have gone there yesterday.

4) He ought to have gone there yesterday.

Or, is there any better way?


Among your options:

(0) is pretty good, and could occur when reasoning along these lines: "Well, if he was intending to go there before the 30th, and he couldn't make it on Wednesday, then he will have gone there yesterday." When you use future perfect and refer to a time in the past or present, you're coming to a conclusion about it. Similarly, "We should get home. He will have made dinner by now."

(2) is getting there, but again suggests that he did not actually. "If she had given him the right directions, he would have gone there yesterday."

I should mention that there are some rare scenarios where (2) could mean (0), because when reasoning one sometimes uses the hypothetical, but in most contexts it suggests that he did not go.

(3) and (4) mean something different: they express an opinion on the rightness of his going — or rather on the wrongness of his not going, because they too mean that he did not go.

(1) would occur in few if any contexts.

Other modal options (if for some reason you actually need to use a modal):

(5) He must have gone there yesterday.

Despite what it sounds like, this is only about as certain as (0), and is more common.

There is also this sequence:

(6a) He might have gone there yesterday.
(6b) He might well have gone there yesterday.
(6c) He might very well have gone there yesterday.

This is in increasing order of certainty about the probability, though even (6c) does not express absolute certainty.

Also, you can replace "might" in each of the above with "could" and get the same meaning, except that "could" can also mean "He was able but did not." So you could avoid it in order to be unambiguous.

Finally, without using a modal, I'd say the most natural (conversational) way to express your sentence is with an adverb:

(7) He probably went there yesterday.

  • (+1) Why does "he would have gone" occur in few cases? I think it implies a weak probability. Something similar to "he could've gone". Am I right? – Cardinal Apr 29 '17 at 15:05
  • I don't know about #0 - I can't say that it's strictly wrong, but "He will have" indicates something about the future, and "gone there yesterday" is about the past, so it seems very unlikely. – stangdon Apr 29 '17 at 15:13
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    @stangdon I guess this post is somehow related to your point: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/100663/… – Cardinal Apr 29 '17 at 15:23
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    @stangdon: Admittedly it sounds pretty paradoxical. I guess I wouldn't expect to see it in formal writing over "must have" or another option. Thanks for the link on it, Cardinal! And I agree that there are times when "He would have gone there yesterday" could mean there is a possibility, even a solid one. "Hmm... So we're hypothesizing that he arrived in Albuquerque two days ago, and was planning to see the University of New Mexico the day after he got into town. In that case, he would have gone there yesterday..." – Luke Sawczak Apr 29 '17 at 15:26
  • @stangdon We use will when the truth of something hasn't been revealed yet (but might become known in the future). So sentences like "He will have arrived by now" are perfectly fine in English – Araucaria - Not here any more. Apr 29 '17 at 17:07

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