3

It would have to rain today, of all days! https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english-spanish/it-would-have-to-rain-today-of-all-days

What meaning of would is used here?

According to OED, it's the past of will https://oed.com/oed2/00285554

5
  • 1
    Hi GJC. ELL requests that before you ask for a word's definition you first look it up in a dictionary. If the definition does not make sense to you, then come here and explain why the definition you found does not make sense.
    – EllieK
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 18:24
  • @EllieK oed.com/oed2/00285554
    – GJC
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 20:27
  • Oh my! That is way too much dictionary for an American. I don't want to consider that level of complexity can exist for any language. Try this one with 12 entries. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/would - I'm thinking #8. I see the difficulty.
    – EllieK
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 20:51
  • If I go, I will see him. If I went, I would see him. But would also expressed conditionality.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 20:54
  • 1
    @EllieK It took me ages, but it's definition #29 at GJC's link! Commented May 18, 2021 at 0:20

2 Answers 2

5

Would have to is here just the past tense of Will have to

You’re right: this is the sense of would which the OED mentions is used for a past-tense version of will. It’s used in reported speech as a “future in the past” as it is sometimes called.

The (paywalled) OED3 entry that applies here is specifically this one:

  1. In indirect reported speech or thought, or its virtual equivalent, in statements in the second and third persons reporting an original statement (esp. of intention) in the first person: intended to, meant to; was going to.

Recent citations provided for that sense 21 include:

  • 1967    A. Wilson No Laughing Matter ɪɪ. 153
    Shouting as he went that he would bloody well never return.
  • 2018    A. Stein Unbound Afterword 284
    In August 2017, Trump announced that he would reverse a policy that enabled transgender individuals to serve openly in the military.

But don’t read too much into their reference to specific grammatical persons (first, second, third), because most native speakers today use will/would for all persons.

So simple sentences like these in the present tense:

  • Today’s forecast says it will rain tomorrow.
  • The weatherman says it is going to rain tomorrow.

Merely become these corresponding versions in the past tense under the backshifting needed for reported speech:

  • Yesterday’s forecast said it would rain today.
  • Yesterday the weatherman said it was going to rain today.

Related ELU questions include 1, 2, 3.

The choices of Collins

I can see why you’re a bit puzzled over that Collins translation of the English exclamation into Spanish:

  • It would have to rain today, of all days!

The answer to your question about this particular use of would have to is actually simpler than it looks, but it takes seeing how they translated that into Spanish for that to become crystal clear: they used a past tense in their translation into Spanish, not anything subjunctive or conditional or such. That’s the key insight here.

Notice how for their translation into Spanish, they gave:

  • ¡Tenía que llover hoy justamente!

Which I might have translated as this in English:

  • It just had to rain today!

So as you see, there’s some exasperation in the exclamation.

There’s a seeming mismatch in aspect between the English and the Spanish, but that’s always going to happen because English cannot distinguish between the Spanish imperfect tenía que and the Spanish preterite tuvo que. Don’t worry about that bit. Their choice of tenía que still tells you everything you need to know about this would have to of theirs: it’s actually a past-tense use!

So what’s happening is that this is the would have to that is merely the past-tense or “back-shifted” version of the modal verb will have to which is commonly used for the future. This is therefore the “future in the past” sort of would. It’s not anything fancy.


Mostly for Spanish speakers

Because you started with an English-to-Spanish translation, I’m going to assume you’re a native—or fluent, or at least capable—speaker of Spanish. So here are three specific citations of tenía que llover hoy in Spanish with which I’ll include a bit of surrounding context so that maybe you will better understand the sense of English would have to here as Collins has used it. I’ve placed the sentence that the Spanish phrase occurs in (or nearly occurs in) in bold:

  1. First Spanish example

    Rubén Cervantes fue por su cartera, de la cual extrajo la imagen de un santo.

    ―Aquí traigo este San Juditas pero no me ha servido de nada. ¿Qué estoy haciendo mal? No ha llovido en todo el año pero tenía que llover hoy que me puse mis tenis blancos. No doy una.

    ―Vamos a La Ballena ―dije―. Ahí me sigues contando.

  2. Second Spanish example

    ¿Por qué tenía que llover hoy? ―dijo―. ¿Por qué no pudo llover mañana?

    Su padre, tirado en ese momento en el brazo del sofá con el periódico de gobierno, hizo sonar las hojas con disgusto:

    ―Porque es simplemente lo que sucede, eso es todo. La lluvia hace que el césped crezca.

    ―¿Por qué, papá?

    ―Porque es así.

  3. Third Spanish example

    Segundo, me prepararon para el día en que estuviera en un parque de diversiones y uno de mis hijos comenzara a llorar porque aparentemente el día se había arruinado.

    ¿Pero por qué mami, por qué tenía que llover hoy? ―Esa era su pregunta una y otra vez―.

    ―Bueno, estamos en primavera, en la Florida. Y en primavera, siempre llueve. La lluvia es necesaria para que todo se renueve, para que los ríos crezcan, para que tengamos cosechas.

Loosely translating just the bold sentences from those three examples into English, I might choose to write them this way:

  1. “It hasn't rained all year but it just had to rain today, the day I put on my white tennies.”

  2. ”Why did it have to rain today?” he said. “Why couldn’t it rain tomorrow?”

  3. ”But why, mommy? Why did it have to rain today?”

In all three cases, I managed to use a translation into English without using the would have to that Collins used. I did that not because Collins is wrong, but because I wanted to show you other ways to think of it in English, ways which I hope will shine more light on this use of would have to of theirs.

This would have to rain is simply a past-tense of will have to rain, as the Spanish versions all illustrate more clearly. It is definitely not any sort of “conditional” type of would have to rain because if it had been, they would have chosen a “fancier” form of the verb in Spanish than their simple tenía que llover — perhaps something like tendría que llover or even habría tenido que llover. The first of those two is easy to think of examples for, the second a bit harder just because compound tenses are always going to used less frequently than simple tenses are. These are all conditional-type uses involving counterfactuals, and that’s not what Collins chose for your example:

  1. How much would it have to rain to fill the reservoir?

    ¿Cuánto tendría que llover para que se llene el embalse?

  2. It would have to rain a whole week at this rate before we had to start worrying.

    Tendría que llover toda una semana a este ritmo antes de que tuviéramos que empezar a preocuparnos.

  3. It would have had to rain a whole week at this rate before we would have had to start worrying.

    Habría tenido que llover toda una semana a este ritmo antes de que tuviéramos que empezar a preocuparnos.

Summary

As you see, your original It would have to rain today! exclamation just means that it was going to rain today in the past tense the way it is in citations 1, 2, and 3. It’s not any kind of fancy conditional use like it is in my off-the-cough examples 4, 5, and 6.

4
  • Interesting answer. I enjoyed the Spanish, as always, and it illuminates the English. Side question: When I read it through my mind read tenis blancos as "tennis whites" (meaning white tennis clothing, perfectly idiomatic in English). You translated it as "white tennies" (white tennis shoes). Is that a familiar idiom for what we would call sneakers or gym shoes?
    – Robusto
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 13:46
  • @Robusto Los tenis in Spanish are the same thing that we might in English call sneakers, gym shoes, athletic shoes, tennis shoes, tennies. More generically, they’re zapatillas de deporte or “sports shoes” in Spanish.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 15:32
  • Is it here the reported past of will? "Used to express presumption or expectation: That would be Steve at the door " ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=would
    – GJC
    Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 22:47
  • @GJC I believe so, yes. These are all in the epistemic mode of probability & expectation ("That will be Steve at the door", "That must be Steve now") rather than the deontic mode of prohibitions, commands, and obligations (as in "You will leave immediately", "You must tell Steve about this"). I would judge the Spanish it translated into (Tenía que llover hoy) also to be epistemic not deontic in this instance, even though that construction is more often encountered in a deontic mode of obligation (Tienes que decírmelo ahora mismo). Modalities are always tricky no matter the language.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 23:02
2

Since the word is "would," not "will," instead of trying to wade through that OED link's lengthy treatise on "will" from the 1989 edition, try this link to the current OED definition of "would" through Lexico:

would:

  1. ironic Used to make a comment about behavior that is typical.
    ‘they would say that, wouldn't they?’

The OED's example above can just as well be simplified to:

They would say that!

Notice the similarity to your sentence:

It would have to rain today, of all days!

That could just as well be expanded to:

It would have to rain today, of all days, wouldn't it?

So, the definition of "would" in your sentence is essentially "is so typical for it to" (i.e., "It's so typical for it to have to rain today, of all days!"). "Typical" is being used in accordance with its following definition:

typical

1.2. informal Showing the characteristics expected of or popularly associated with a particular person, situation, or thing.

2
  • 1
    Does behavior that is typical clash with today, of all days?
    – GJC
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 22:42
  • 1
    No, not in an ironic sense. Also, what's typical is that it's happening to the speaker or other referenced persons as it's conveying an ironic emotional response to the action, like it's typical for them, like just their luck, that the one day of all the days it could've rained when it didn't, it rained today, a day they clearly didn't want it to rain. Commented May 17, 2021 at 22:50

You must log in to answer this question.

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