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Lance: It is a total loss.

Lance's son: How does this even happen?

Woody Woodpecker (is hiding in the tree hole): I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to!

Fireman: Well, I think we found the cause of the fire. It looks like something was destroying the wall and hit the wiring. It is probably a small animal, mouse or a rat or a bird or something.

Lance:Bird?Like a woodpecker?

Fireman: That's possible.

Lance's son: Dad, woody wouldn't have done this! It couldn't have been him!

Lance: Really?

1) Why did Lance's son use "would + have +p.p"? I think he could have said "Dad, woody didn't this".

It is a little bit confusing.

Movie: Woody Woodpecker

2 Answers 2

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"Didn't do this" means that Lance's son would be saying woody absolutely did not do it, and he has knowledge to say that definitively.

"Wouldn't have done this" is basically being a character witness. Lance's son means that he knows Woody well enough that he has the feeling that it wasn't him.

The difference between the two is that the former is a statement of fact (which Lance's son could not make unless he witnessed the "crime"), while the latter is a statement of opinion.

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  • Thank you. what does this "which Woody's son could not make unless" mean? Woody is a bird.
    – sami
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 21:37
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    @samsam whoops, meant to say lance's son. Edited Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 22:41
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We could argue about whether He wouldn't have done / do that is a "stronger" or a "weaker" assertion that He didn't / doesn't do that, but for most purposes it's just a stylistic choice which verb form to use.

Using the modal would rather than did (negated or not) could be seen as "distancing" the speaker from the assertion. So I would think that's correct sounds more "tentative" than I think that's correct - if only because it seems the speaker isn't even sure exactly what he does think. It's almost as if he's speculating what he might think - the implied hypothetical context being ...if he were to give the matter his full consideration (which he hasn't yet, so it's just an initial reaction).

On the other hand, saying He wouldn't do that rather than He didn't do that could be seen as a stronger assertion, in that it tends to imply not only that he didn't do it, but that he would never do such a thing - the implied hypothetical context being ...under any circumstances.

That second perspective certainly reflects the sense intended by Lance's son in the cited context, where He wouldn't do that is effectively equivalent to He would never do that (because it's simply not in his nature to do things like that).

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  • +1 for "under any circumstances".
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 15:37
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    Thanks for your explanations and your time. But it seems that almost all of your explanations involve distinguishing between "would do" and "didn't do" while I needed to know the differences between "wouldn't have done " and "didn't do".
    – sami
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 15:59
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    @samsam: In your specific context, using the "hypothetical present perfect" form wouldn't have done as opposed to "hypothetical present" (or "timeless") wouldn't do makes absolutely no difference to the meaning. As pointed out in my first sentence above, that's entirely a stylistic choice. I've devoted the rest of my answer to what should be more useful information for you - exploring why you might choose to introduce the conditional modal would at all - which is after all what you asked, with Why wouldn't have done rather than didn't? Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 16:21

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