We would live in New York when I was young.

I know you don't say Would like this. But why? I just want to understand the feeling(?) underneath of that. When I posted a question about Past Habitual Would, someone told me like "You could exchange the Would to Often or Usually".

Like this one below.

I would talk(=often talked) to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be(=was usually) greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.

So far I've applied his advice very usefully. But somehow sometimes I couldn't switch Would with those words. Like, you can say "I often lived there when I was kid", but can't say "I would live there when I was kid". I know you will say like "You can't always substitute those words for Would". But still I just want to connect and expand some ideas that I already get used to. Any good advice please?

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    @CowperKettle, good catch on the title. On the "typo" in the body, though, it's better to leave that alone. On a site for English learners, that could be a grammar error intentionally written by the OP rather than a slip on the keyboard. In that case, it's another item that can be covered in answers or comments to explain why it's wrong. – fixer1234 Aug 12 '18 at 10:22
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    You cannot say (not meaningfully and idiomatically) I often lived there when I was a kid. for the reasons fixer1234 presents in the answer. There is no frequency to living in a place. You're simply there. You might visit a place frequently, but you don't frequently make your home there. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 12 '18 at 10:30

The meaning is a slightly different nuance than you are getting from the definition and advice. The applicable meanings are: to express custom or habitual action (ex: we would meet often for lunch) or to express consent or choice (ex: would put it off if he could). See Webster.

You example doesn't quite fit because of the meaning of the verb you picked. You could say:

We would visit New York when I was young.

That could mean either that you customarily visited, or chose to visit (we wouldn't visit Chicago because we hated that city, but we would visit New York).

The reason it doesn't work with "live in" is because living somewhere is typically a long term thing; you move there and stay awhile. So it isn't a recurring activity that can be a habit. custom, or choice, when you talk about the past. There may have been an initial choice to live there, but that happened once, it isn't a recurring choice.

That said, you could contrive a situation where it might fit. Say an old timer was recounting his life. He had some kind of job that would put him in a location for a short time and then he had to move. He liked New York and over his lifetime, he chose to go back to New York to live many times. He might say "I would live in New York when I had a yearning for the big city."

Your example "...when I was young" would kind of rule out even that contrived scenario because there wouldn't ordinarily be enough time when you were young to make living in one place among others a frequent occurrence.

  • I think you could say "When I was young, we would live in New York in the summers" (e.g. people with divorced parents or a summer home). Oops, just noticed that's James K's answer. – Paul Aug 13 '18 at 2:51

You can say "I would live there", but the meaning is odd, and it takes a bit of context to make sense:

My parents divorced when I was a baby, and my parents had shared custody. My father had a log cabin in Vermont, and I would live there on weekends.

Note that modal verbs like "would" are followed by the bare infinitive, not the past tense. So say "I would talk", not "I would talked".

One reason not to use "would" is that without context it can be mistaken for a conditional expression "I would live there (if I had the money.)" or a future-in-the-past "By 1980 I had bought my first log cabin, and I would live there after leaving my wife in 1982".

It is generally odd to say "I often lived there" or "I would live there" since this indicates a repeated action. But living in a place is normally a stable state.


Here's an example where using "would live" to describe the past feels fairly natural to my ear:*

"When I was young our family moved around a lot. We would live in, say, New York for six months, just long enough to get used to the place and maybe make a few friends at school, and then Dad would get reassigned to Podunk, Alaska and we'd have to pull up our roots and start all over again. And next time it would be three months in Singapore or a year and a half in London. And people would always tell me how cool it was that I got to see so many different places. I hated it."

Note that here the narrator is not necessarily describing a regularly repeating activity — there's no implication that the narrator's family lived in New York more than once — but rather an example of something that happened to them more than once, with some variation. It might even be a purely hypothetical example, or a partly fictionalized combination of multiple real events. In that sense, there's a connection to the hypothetical use of "would"; both are describing things that might (have) happen(ed), but not necessarily in exactly the described manner.

*) With the usual disclaimer that I'm not a native speaker, and my intuition might be off, or simply different from what native English speakers in any particular region are used to.

  • Very good. You're right, "would" can apply to the repeated practice of living in a place, moving, and living in another place, with New York being an example. – fixer1234 Aug 12 '18 at 20:01

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