I am wondering what "we wouldn’t know anywhere" means in the following sentences:

‘Such fond memories of Brighton,’ Mum is saying to Hannah. ‘You know, I performed down there a couple of times.’ Oh God. Not long before she starts telling everyone about that time she had penetrative sex on screen for an arthouse film (never got a release, probably now on PornHub).

‘Oh,’ Hannah replies, ‘we feel a bit guilty about not getting to the theatre more often. Where did you perform? The Theatre Royal?’

‘No,’ Mum says, with that slightly haughty tone that creeps into her voice when she’s been shown up. ‘It’s a little more boutique than that.’ A toss of her head. ‘It’s called “The Magic Lantern”. In the Lanes. Do you know it?’

‘Er – no,’ Hannah says. And then, quickly, ‘But as I say, we’re so out of the loop we wouldn’t know anywhere, even if it’s the place to go.’

  • Lucy Foley, The Guest List, Chapter 14

This is a thriller novel published in 2020 in the United Kingdom. One hundred and fifty guests would be gathering at some remote and deserted fictional islet called Inis an Amplóra off the coast of the island of Ireland to celebrate the wedding between Jules (a self-made woman running an online magazine called The Download) and Will (a celebrity appearing in a TV show program called Survive the Night). The day before the actual wedding day, during the rehearsal dinner, Jules sees her mom, who once worked as an actress, talking to Hannah, who lives in Brighton, about how she used to act at a theater in Brighton. (The narrator here is Jules.)

In this part, I am wondering what "we wouldn’t know anywhere" means, especially as to what "would" means here.

Would it be all right to understand that "wouldn't" here implies a hypothetical future where Hannah will hear a theatre (which is a must-visit place) and she probably will not know anything about that place?

I am wondering how it is different in saying just "we don't know anywhere" and saying "we wouldn't know anywhere" in this dialogue.

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    No, there's no implication of a "hypothetical future" in this context. Saying something like I wouldn't know how to answer your question is just a stylised alternative to I don't know how to answer it. Sometimes using wouldn't instead of don't in such contexts makes the utterance a bit more "detached, polite, formal", and it might also be understood as adding a bit of emphasis (I really can't answer you). But mostly it's just a meaningless stylistic choice. Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 14:40
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    The Theatre Royal is the only theatre in Brighton that Hannah knows. Whichever other venue Mum were to mention, Hannah would not know it. Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 15:05
  • Dear @FumbleFingers and Kate Bunting, thank you very much for the explanations. So "wouldn't" here does not necessarily imply a hypothetical future, but can be just a way to express politeness. But then it could also suppose a situation where Mum mentions another theatre as you suggest... so... hmm... maybe it's both...? 🤔 Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 9:37
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    Re "maybe it's both" - I think you should just give up on the idea of trying to link the concept of "hypothetical scenario" to the specific cited usage here. As it happens, there is a "hypothetical" element to the exact phrasing (Even if it were to be the most popular venue in town, we wouldn't have heard of it). But semantically I'd say it's completely equivalent to We wouldn't know even the most popular venue = We don't know it. Just because a verb usage can imply "hypothetical" doesn't mean it always does, in every "fixed format" idiomatic usage where it occurs. Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 11:32

1 Answer 1


The exchange can be simplified to this:

Do you know this theater?
No, I wouldn't know anywhere.

Anywhere means "any place".

The wouldn't is a hypothetical that implies something like If you were to ask me about any place, I wouldn't know it. We often use modals in a hypothetical way like this to "soften" a statement, because "I don't know any places around here" seems very blunt.

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