Sally: You will have to meet my parents tomorrow.

Jack: What time would/will it be?

I think that I will have to use will in this case, as the situation is likely to happen, but using would sounds more polite. Which one must I use in this situation?

  • 1
    I don't think "would" denotes a politeness here. I think it expresses uncertainty. Jun 20, 2017 at 22:55
  • I think "that" would sound better: What time would/will that be? I agree that "would" expresses Jack's uncertainty -- he does not seem to be so sure that he will in fact meet Sally's parents.
    – Gustavson
    Jun 20, 2017 at 23:17
  • 1
    Neither is more polite than the other. "What time would it be?" could, depending on tone of voice and the relationship between Sally and Jack, express a degree of skepticism about the time of the meeting, or whether it will really take place. "What time will it be?", on the other hand, is a straightforward request for the time of the meeting, with nothing else inferred or implied. Jun 20, 2017 at 23:36
  • @P.E.Dant this is correct and IMO could be a good Answer if you expanded on it a little! Jun 20, 2017 at 23:42
  • @P.E.Dant What do you mean by a degree of skepticism about the time of the meeting? I'm not understanding it.
    – konte
    Jun 21, 2017 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


Although "would" can be used for politeness, that behaviour is usually for requests and commands:

Do you want tea? / Would you like tea?

Come with me. / Would you please come with me?

Here, alternating with a future tense, it does not indicate politeness, as the above commenters agree. Instead, this is the more general purpose of the conditional: it indicates a hypothetical scenario.

So the future tense would indicate that it will definitely happen:

What time will that be?
Here, Jack has already agreed to meet Sally's parents, even though he has not explicitly said so. In fact, he assumes that she knows him well enough to count on his agreement and that she has already scheduled a time in advance!

But the conditional tense does not yet agree that it will happen:

What time would that be?
Here, Jack has not yet agreed to meet Sally's parents tomorrow. Instead, he implies that whether or not he can accept depends on what time she was planning to set the meeting for, because he might have a schedule conflict.

If you want to make him more or less polite, you can phrase the whole thing differently. Here are a few options (all of them assume that he is agreeing to come).

More polite
→ Okay. Did you have a time in mind?
→ What time would you like me to come? (Note: "would you like" is the conditional of politeness!)
→ What time works for you?

Less polite
→ What time?
→ When do you want me there?
→ Lunch? Dinner?

You must log in to answer this question.

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