The company included more swords than Catelyn would have liked. Three by the fire wore the red stallion badge of the Brackens, and there was a large party in blue steel ringmail and capes of a silvery grey. On their shoulder was another familiar sigil, the twin towers of House Frey. She studied their faces, but they were all too young to have known her. The senior among them would have been no older than Bran when she went north.

  1. I think the first "would have" is backshift of "would", meaning "wanted".
  2. I think the second "would have" has an implied condition: if it had been the time when she went to the north, the senior among them would have been no older than Bran.

Is my thinking right? Thank you.

1 Answer 1


I'm afraid not.

The first "would have" is a counterfactual conditional: If they had had fewer, she would have liked it

The second is an epistemic "would" - the meaning is something like "she guessed or concluded that she was".

Edit: corrected "more" to "fewer" according to comments.

  • Thank you very much, Colin. 1. So in what cases can "would have pp" be backshift, meaning "wanted"? 2. I didn't know "would have pp" can also be epistemic. Can you give me some examples of epistemic use of "would have pp"?
    – thetazuo
    Aug 27, 2017 at 11:38
  • More or fewer in the first case? Aug 27, 2017 at 11:43
  • Sorry, @MvLog: I did mean "fewer". Didn't read carefully enough.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 27, 2017 at 11:44
  • 1
    "Would have" for "wanted" is archaic or very literary: you won't find it in normal speech or writing. For epistemic "would have": common in exchanges like "When did you go into town? Oh, it would have been Thursday or Friday".
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 27, 2017 at 11:48
  • 1
    @thetazuo: yes. Except that he's probably doing something with a bit more certainty than just guessing: probably he knows that it must have been either Thursday or Friday, but does not remember which.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 27, 2017 at 21:29

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