It was as if I was seeing the young people inside them. Before I would have just seen the wrinkles.

What is the usage of "would have" in these sentences?

Source: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/older-and-wiser-h7jfkzjv2h3

  • 1
    the link to the source does not allow me to view the article, it requires a paid subscription. Please copy the text around the main sentence (maybe a sentence before and after) and paste.
    – AIQ
    Oct 4, 2019 at 16:29
  • IT is about 2 people who tried experiencing life as an old person.
    – ikigai20
    Oct 4, 2019 at 16:31
  • Please do not use all caps in questions.
    – Lambie
    Oct 4, 2019 at 16:55
  • 1
    I understood that, please provide the lines before and after the main line just the way they are in the article. Copy the three lines and paste it, that will give us some context. I don't understand why there is a "?" at the end of the quotation.
    – AIQ
    Oct 4, 2019 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


The verb here, "would have seen" is an example of the third conditional. That verb tense is used for actions happening only under certain conditions, conditions which might have happened in the past, but never did (in reality). Therefore if you use "would have seen", you are talking about an action that is contrary to reality. It is a hypothetical situation.

Example: "If antibiotics had not been available, he would have died." ... but he did receive the medicine, therefore he did not die. So "would have died" is an action contrary to reality.

In the context of your article about the aging experiment, the conditions (that didn't happen) are probably the condition of not doing the aging experiment:

It was as if I was seeing the young people inside them. If I hadn't taken part in the aging experiment, I would have just seen the wrinkles.

But the entire "if" clause is replaced by the simple adverb "before". In other words, "Before [I took part in the aging experiment], I would have just seen..."

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