We can use would to express annoyance or irritation at things that are happening now. There is usually a sense that this is typical, or not very surprising.

You would say that! ( it's typical of you, and it's annoying ).

Wouldn't you just know it! ( I knew that would happen — and it's annoying ).

--Page 78 (Macmillan - Inside Out English Grammar in Context Advanced)


Stressed will can be used to criticise people's typical behaviour.

She WILL fall in love with the wrong people.

Well, if you WILL keep telling people what you think of them ...

Stressed would can also be used to criticise a single past action - the meaning is 'that's typical of you'.

You WOULD tell Mary about the party - I didn't want to invite her.

-- 633.7, Michael Swan's, Practical English Usage.

I would think these two versions don't agree with each other. Which one is more precise and correct?

If PEU is right, the example in Macmillan would be "You WILL say that!"

Besides, is "Wouldn't you just know it!" a rhetorical question? How to parse it?

  • 1
    It would be helpful if you reproduced the italics from the original.
    – user230
    May 30, 2014 at 16:06
  • OK, it is done! Thx for your advice! I'll stick to it. @snailplane
    – Kinzle B
    May 30, 2014 at 16:11
  • 1
    It's not that either one is wrong (they both give valid uses), but that neither is complete. Now that you've read both of them, you have a fuller picture of how and when you can use the stressed would.-
    – Hellion
    May 30, 2014 at 16:21
  • 2
    If I understand this aright, you're saying you think "You would say that!" and "She will date no-hopers!" are very different. But to me there's no conflict, and they're essentially the same usage. The first is in the past tense because you already said it (or "conditional" because that's what you say whenever that situation arises). The second is present tense because she keeps doing it. May 30, 2014 at 16:22
  • So I can say "You WILL say that!" instead of "You WOULD say that!", and the intended meaning remains unchanged, right? @FumbleFingers
    – Kinzle B
    May 30, 2014 at 22:22

1 Answer 1


To my ear, the PEU examples are both colloquially natural and accurately described, while the Macmillan examples, although colloquial, are somewhat misleadingly described: things that are happening now might be better expressed as things that have just happened or have just been reported. But that's a minor criticism.

All these examples exhibit the same basic use of will to express habitual or characteristic action. In this sense (like all the modals in all their senses) this habitual will employs its tensed forms, and particularly the past-tense form, to express nuances which may have little or nothing to do with tense. Speaking very broadly,

  • Ordinary unstressed uses usually express simple habit—behavior repeated frequently over a long period of time—and tense has its usual significance of present or past reference:

    When he's preoccupied with a problem he will often pace up and down for hours.
    When I was a child we would always go to my grandmother's for Thanksgiving dinner.

  • When will or would is stressed, the sense is somewhat different: the habitual action is represented as perversely deliberate. And the tenses are employed somwhat differently, too. The present-tense form generally signifies that the subject currently makes a habit of the perverse behavior:

    She will keep falling in love with the wrong people is rhetorically equivalent to She insists on falling in love with the wrong people.

    But the past-tense form, although refers to a past action, does not express repeated action in the past but represents the subject's behavior on a single occasion as characteristically perverse:

    You would tell Mary about the party ... Even though I asked you not to tell anybody without checking with me, you just can't control yourself around her.

    A: He said it was all Jack's fault.
    B: Well, he would say that, wouldn't he. Nothing is ever his fault, oh no!


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