Normally, if I hear somebody say "I would have stayed", I would expect a "but" coming along stating the reason why instead the speaker did not stay. Or, I would expect subsequently there will be an adverbial phrase/clause of time as in 'I would have stayed there for 3 months by the time he arrived.'

However, consider this scene where Edward answers Jacob's question about how he was doing while being away from Bella:

For over six months I was able to stay away, to keep my promise that I wouldn't interfere again. It was getting close—I was fighting but I knew I wasn't going to win; I would have come back ... just to check on her. That's what I would have told myself, anyway. And if I'd found her reasonably happy... I like to think that I could have gone away again.

But she wasn't happy. And I would have stayed. That's how she convinced me to stay with her tomorrow, of course.

Eclipse: Stephanie Meyer, pub 2007 Hachette UK

The novel is written in the past tense. Edward had come back to Bella by the time of utterance. He did choose to stay. So what would the difference be between "I stayed" and "I would have stayed" in this situation?

It's the same issue with "I would have come back": why the perfect tense?

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    Hi. When quoting, can you please follow the guidelines. Many thanks. english.stackexchange.com/help/referencing Jan 20, 2021 at 13:16
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    He seems to be talking about having been tempted to come back during his six-month absence. If he had come back at that time, he would have stayed. Jan 20, 2021 at 13:29
  • And I would have stayed. = And I ought to have stayed/wanted to stay. I think that the speech is hesitant and more the speaking of thoughts and that there is an implied "but you know what happened, and I didn't."
    – user81561
    Jan 20, 2021 at 13:42
  • 'I would have stayed had I known how ill she really was' vs 'I would have stayed even if she had not asked me to.' Even with these, we're left uncertain. There could be over-riding conditions. Jan 20, 2021 at 15:41

1 Answer 1


Yes, Edward had come back by the time he is speaking. However, he is speaking about the past; in the past, he said that he would have stayed had he come back. We know now that he didn't come back. To answer your question, it's not whether he stayed or left -- he never came back during the time he was speaking of at all.

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