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Forgive me for asking numerous questions about "would" on and on.╮(╯-╰)╭Somehow I hate this word and also love it.

13 — used to say that something is possible or likely

▪ I think my swimming pool would [=could] hold 20,000 gallons of water. Source

Is Merriam correct about this usage?

I would think that in this case "would" is more certain than "could", am I right?

And I invent two scenarios here:

  1. A friend of mine ask me, "What size is your pool?" (asking about capacity of the pool). I point to my empty pool and say, "I think my swimming pool would hold 20,000 gallons of water."

  2. A friend of mine ask me, "How much water is your pool containing now?" (asking about the fact of the amount of water). I point to my full pool and say, "I think my swimming pool would hold 20,000 gallons of water."

Will both of my answer match their respective context and aptly deliver the intended meaning?

3 Answers 3

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The first scenario is correct, and would, as you say, sounds more certain.

The second scenario does not sound correct. Saying that the pool would hold 20,000 gallons of water implies that it is not currently holding 20,000 gallons of water.

"I think that my swimming pool has 20,000 gallons of water in it," or "I think that my swimming pool is holding 20,000 gallons of water," are correct.

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I personally think that case 13 is a bit of an over-reach - this is really just another example of case 2. The nuance of possible or likely derives from I think rather than would (Try substituting I'm certain in the sentence and then consider whether there remains any sense of possible or likely).

The examples provided in your two scenarios are both idiomatically correct, however I believe the subtext of the second option is subtly different - it actually has the meaning "I think my swimming pool would hold 20,000 gallons of water [if it were measured]." and thus reverts to an example of case 2 again.

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  • I also feel it is kind of overstretched here. Therefore, I think in this case "would" is more certain than "could", do you agree?
    – Kinzle B
    Apr 12, 2014 at 5:03
  • yes, absolutely Apr 12, 2014 at 5:33
  • "My swimming pool would hold 20,000 gallons of water" is just a less certain version of "My swimming pool will hold 20,000 gallons of water". Is this correct? @bruised reed
    – Kinzle B
    Apr 12, 2014 at 15:00
  • Not really, as a description like "just a less certain version" only correctly applies to comparisons between items in the same category. Given that the former statement is hypothetical and the latter is a definite statement of intention, they are actually in somewhat different categories. Apr 13, 2014 at 15:05
  • Why are these hypothetical if parts always implicit?
    – Kinzle B
    Apr 13, 2014 at 15:13
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The main thing is you are confused between would and could. As a non-native speaker, I certainly understand you. Whilst others may come up with detail answer using grammar jargon, I'll try to make it short and simple for people like us.

In general cases, would - is a past tense of 'will' and talks about 'probability'. On the other hand, if you use could it talks more about the 'capability'.

So, if you say, your pool would hold it refers to the probability showing your guess that the pool is likely to hold that amount of water. And, if you say your pool could hold, it'll talk about the capacity of the pool to occupy that much water. The dictionary just clarifies that sometimes, would is equal to could as in that case. It won't make a great difference unless you have a grammarian's eye!

Is Merriam correct? Well, I'm too little to justify it!

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