I was watching Ricky Gervais's stand up show, and this usage of "would" kind of confused me. Why is he using "would" while telling a story happened in the past? I have seen this usage being used before but I haven't seen any information about this usage in dictionaries.

Context: He is telling a story about his mom's funeral. His older brother told the vicar things that were just lies or slightly wrong to say in the ceremony and when the vicar said these things, most of the crowd started laughing etc.

-"Every time we thought of it, we'd see Larry go. Like that, right? Then we'd just start giggling, just fits of giggles, right?"

-"My nieces and nephews started crying. I'd come prepared with a pack of tissues. They'd take one and hand it on. Before the funeral, I'd taken the tissues out, written on them, folded them back and put them in. And each tissue said, "Snivelling f... b..."


This is the 'habitual past', employed to talk about a habit or frequent or repeated action in a former time. Usually formed with would (or 'used to') followed by the infinitive of a verb.

When I was a child, I would often play in the park after school.
When I lived in England, my friends and I would go to a pub near my house.

Habitual past

The habitual past can be used for past repeated actions during a single event:

I saw a drunk man walking along the road last night. Every few steps he would nearly fall over.

  • But isn't this usage used to refer to typical habitual actions and events in the past. I think that ın this sentences there are no habitual actions. He is just talking about one occoasion and that happened at his mom's funeral. – Talha Özden Apr 4 '19 at 19:32
  • Repeated actions at the funeral. – Michael Harvey Apr 4 '19 at 19:35
  • @TalhaÖzden: The first of your examples is certainly habitual in the general sense; it refers to a habit, a recurring behaviour, of a group of friends. The second is habitual in the sense meant here, but not in its everyday sense; it's making a general statement about what the children did when given tissues on that occasion, as there were many tissues given out. – SamBC Apr 4 '19 at 19:43

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