In the sentence "the best choice would be...", what does "would" mean in the following sentence?

Questioner: Is this sentence correct? 'Finished eating, we went to the zoo'.

Answer: I'm afraid that is not correct. The phrase 'Finished eating' is a participle phrase with a passive meaning and you need an active meaning here. The best choice would be 'Having finished eating...'.


Would is used to convey the conditional mood. The conditional mood conveys some sort of dependency on a condition. A more obvious example:

If I had any sense, I would come in out of the rain.

In this case, it is fine to say The best choice is "Having finished eating ..." as well. Using the conditional conveys a sense of If you were to say this again, the best choice would be "Having finished eating ..."

Conditionals are often used in a sense like this, to "soften" the statement a bit. This is a good short overview of various forms of the conditional.

Now, would doesn't always denote conditional mood. It is also the past tense of will:

They asked me to work late tomorrow, and I won't (will not) do it.
They asked me to work late yesterday, and I wouldn't (would not) do it.

Would is also used in a past sense to convey being in the habit of doing something (similar to used to):

When I lived in Poughkeepsie, I would/used to take a walk every morning at eight.

There are other meanings, and you can see more of them here.

  • Thank you. But there is no conditional (if) in the above. The speaker directly uses "would". Could you explain? I'm a liltle confised. – whitekrystal Apr 3 '18 at 8:02
  • Sure. The conditional (if) is implied. Again, saying "would" conveys the meaning "if you were to say this again..." This happens rather often. Another example: "I would think so" conveys less confidence in one's opinion than "I think so." The implication is "If I had to form an opinion, I would think so." (Since I don't have to form an opinion, I only "probably" think so.) Sometimes you have to look pretty hard to find the "if," especially if it's a common phrase such as this one. But it's usually still there. – BobRodes Apr 3 '18 at 11:29
  • Thanks BobRodes. In the above sentence, does 'would' convey less confidence? – whitekrystal Apr 3 '18 at 22:56
  • @whitekrystal Yes, I think it does a bit. Although perhaps it's better explained as a device to make one sound less opinionated. – BobRodes Apr 4 '18 at 8:44
  • @whitekrystal "I would like to play outside" is considered a nice request by a child to go outside. "I want to play outside" is considered demanding and insistent. Both mean the same thing, but the tone is radically different between the two. – Neil Apr 4 '18 at 11:49

According to Practical English Usage, 3rd edition, 436.4:

It makes questions, requests, and suggestions less direct. For example: I though it would be nice to have a picnic. Hi! I thought I'd come over and introduce myself. My name's Andy.

Also based on Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, the entry for this word number 10 says:

" used to give your opinion about something when you are not very sure about it".

So in your sentence, I think, the word "would" is all about being less certain or less direct.

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