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A pattern: "I would have eaten a patty". How can it be taken in by native speakers? As for me, I have the following ways of reading it:

  • I wanted to eat a patty (but I didn't really);
  • I ate a patty (a simple fact);
  • It is rather possible that I ate a patty (I don't remember if I really did that);
  • It is rather possible that I ate a patty (it was pitch dark when I was eating something, it could be a patty rather than a piece of plastic);
  • (or 3rd Conditional), i.e. I would have eaten a patty (if I had been allowed by my boss);
  • It would have been better to eat a patty (than a hot-dog).
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  • The answer may depend on context. Is this part of a larger sentence or a story?
    – stangdon
    Feb 18, 2021 at 16:59
  • (I have just edited it a little) Should we take it up as it is, without a context, what possible meanings (implications) can the pattern have? And according to these implications one would be able to apply this pattern easily (with infinite range of modifications) to different contexts. Thank you in advance.
    – Eugene
    Feb 18, 2021 at 17:27

1 Answer 1

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The word "would" has multiple uses. With no other context I'll assume that this is the "conditional" use. It creates clauses with (explicit or implied) conditions.

In this example there is no explict condition, so we can assume

I didn't eat a patty. But if some condition was true, I "I ate a patty" is also true.

This is the 2nd conditional (I think). Perhaps 3rd, I can't really keep track.

There are other interpretations that might be favoured by particular contexts:

By the age of 13, I would have eaten a patty every day to help me bulk up.

(This is understood to mean "used to")

I said that I would have eaten a patty.

This is future in the past, the direct quote "I will have eaten a patty" has been backshifted.

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  • Thank you a load of lots. As for the recurrent actions of eating a patty every day, it's very interesting and helpful for me. I've hardly ever come across this reading. And can the "would" have a tint of "volition" on the part of the speaker? (i.e. "I wanted to eat a patty"). Or a tint of "supposition"? (i.e. "It is rather possible that I ate a patty (I don't remember if I really did that).
    – Eugene
    Feb 19, 2021 at 6:46
  • Sorry, I can't twig your punctuation in the right way: "But if some condition was true, I "I ate a patty" is also true". I assumed that you alluded to "I ate a patty" to be also true for my pattern?
    – Eugene
    Feb 19, 2021 at 17:05

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