1

The book Practical English Usage by Michael Swan says: The tense in the subordinate clause tends to be simplified.

He gives some examples:

(a) If I (would have) had lots of money, I would give some to anybody who (would ask) asked for it.

(b) In a perfect world, you would be able to say exactly what you (would think) thought.

(c) I would always try to help anybody who was in trouble, whether I knew them or not.

And since Would has the meaning of will just with a softer tone, it got me thinking: What tense should I use when I use would to talk about the present and future, but with doubt, uncertainty, or possibility?

Examples I came up with:

(1) I would go to the park with her if she invites/invited me. =>I want to use "would" to express uncertainty in my willingness to go to the park.

(2) This thing is weird. I would think Tom is/was able to explain. =>I want to use "would" to express uncertainty in my thinking.

(3) I have this extra money on me. I would give it to friends who ask/asked for it. =>I want to use "would" to express uncertainty or possibility of giving money.

Do they have anything to do with tense simplification? If not, does it mean that I can use tenses depending on what I try to say?

By depending on what I try to say, I mean like:

I can use invites in (1) because it happens in the future.

I can use "Tom is able to explain" in (2) because it happens in the future.

And I can use either one of the phrases down below:

(4)use friends who asked for it to mean in the past, there were friends of mine that asked for money from me

(5)use friends who ask for it to mean the friends that might or will ask me for money in the future

Finally, how about could, might, should; I remember they can also be used to express uncertainty, doubt, etc. Do they follow the same rules?

1
  • I think "might" might work for the first 3 sentences: "I might go to the park with her if she invites me.", "This thing is weird. I think Tom might explain it.", and "I have this extra money on me. I might give it to friends who ask for it." Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 17:54

1 Answer 1

0

I'll give a partial answer, in case it helps. It will take the form of the full expansions that I think your author is simplifying from. It is an interesting point; I rarely think about all the freedom we have to shorten these things.

But in general, I'll point out that all these words - should, would, will, can, might, may - give use quite a bit of freedom... a lot of experience listening and taking part in conversations will help build your confidence with what to do and when.

Here are my ideas on the full versions of these:

(a) If I had lots o f money, I would give some to anybody who asked for it.

Were I to have / If I were to have lots of money, I would give some to anybody who asked for it.

(b) In a perfect world, you would be able to say exactly what you thought.

Were we to live in a perfect world / If this were to be a perfect world, you would be able to say exactly what you thought.

(c) I would always try to help anybody who was in trouble, whether I knew them or no

I would always try to help anybody who was in trouble, whether it were true that I knew them or not

whether it were to be the case that I knew them or not

were I to know them or not (I guess the best, as it is shorter and I think gets it done)

Hopefully I am getting this right; as I say, it's been awhile since I noticed it.

4
  • Thank you for your answer. Sorry, I have added some additional information to my question because my questions were not very clear. The original sentences the author gives are focused on simplifying "would + verb" to "past tense verb". And I don't know whether it is also a rule that applies when I want to use "would", "could", "might" to express present or future possibility or want to use them as softer "will", "can", and "may".
    – VinceL
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 9:05
  • 1
    It is somewhat difficult to speak generally about the differences, and the veracity/strength, etc. But I feel like you are on your way to understanding the situation. I think many examples is a good path to full confidence. Often the deciding factor in language is the actual set of ideas that we need to be able to express - what things might a person be trying to tell you? What phrases can we generate? Does one sound more like it means what I want than what I don't? And sometimes, we compromise by saying something much shorter, and then maybe add more, to patch things up. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 9:15
  • a small thing I could note is that, at least to me, "might" and "may" are very often indistinguishable Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 9:15
  • and historically, at least, I think "would" is really the same word as "willed", in a sense.. but "will" is often quite stronger nowadays Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 9:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .