Which are correct?

Who do you think was the murderer in the story?

1) I think Ben would be the murderer.

2) I think Ben would have been the murderer.

3) Ben would be the murderer.

4) Ben would have been the murderer.

I feel puzzled with the tense problem of modal verbs. Could you please help me out?

  • I don't understand why you try to use would. Why don't you follow the temporal scheme of the question (think - was) i.e. I think Ben was definitely not the murderer. – Ben A. Feb 21 '20 at 13:18
  • Here "would" is use to express probability and likelihood, namely, I guess Ben was the murderer. – Paddington Feb 21 '20 at 13:24
  • I understand your aim. Nevertheless, would sounds strange to my ear and I would prefer could. If I change would for could I'd say 2 and 4 are appropriate because the question asks who was the murderer?. Both are actually the same. 1 and 3 could be used if the question asked who is the murderer?. This would be more appropriate anyway because the murderer is still the murderer even if his deed lies in the past. There is no need to use a past tense. – Ben A. Feb 21 '20 at 13:35
  • Thanks. Here I try to assume a situation that A is telling an imaginary story to B and the murderer is not known yet. Which one is more appropriate? who is/was the murderer? – Paddington Feb 21 '20 at 13:50
  • Having thought a second time about it I don't see any crucial difference between is and was. It's just that is focuses on the present (Who is the person, who has commited the murder?) while was focuses on the past (Who was the person commiting the murder.). – Ben A. Feb 21 '20 at 14:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.