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"Would" can be used to express an opinion more softly and the tense in the subordinate clause remains unchanged. But when we use "would" in this sense with a third-person subject, do we change the tense in the subordinate clause?

Example 1

The tense in the subordinate clause remains unchanged.

I would say that she is one of the most iconic dingers.

Example 2

What tense do we use?

This show is so lame and dull. My sister, who is a movie lover, would think that the show is/was garbage that is/was not suitable for even killing time.

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  • [and that it is/was not]
    – Lambie
    Aug 9, 2021 at 17:24
  • If you said ....was one of the most.... you would imply that she was dead or, at least, that she no longer sang. Aug 9, 2021 at 18:18

3 Answers 3

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In your example 2, the clearest (and I think) most common usage would be to keep the present tense, although I have heard native speakers use the past tense.

It would be better, if you want to use past tense, to re-cast the verb "to think" into the past (making it a present perfect subjunctive? Forgive me, but I'm a bit rusty on my grammar terminology):

My sister, who is a movie lover, would have thought that the show was garbage that was not suitable...

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I would say that she is one of the most iconic singers.
OR

  • was
  • has been
  • had been
  • could have been
  • should have been
  • would have been
  • might have been
  • will be
  • will have been
    No continuous. But any other tense. That use of would in the first clause does not trigger any particular tense in the second. It all depends on what you want to say.
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  • Thanks for your reply. Can I say the "would" for softening tones doesn't trigger tense changing in the subordinate clause even when it is used with a third-person subject (like she, he, my sister, etc.)? I mean the different tenses just mean happening at different times and are not subjunctive mood or things like that.
    – vincentlin
    Aug 10, 2021 at 3:23
  • @vincentlin I already answered this, specifically for the third person but it can be any person in the subordinate clause.
    – Lambie
    Aug 13, 2021 at 14:46
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In your example 2 it wouldn't matter whether you use present or past tense - you would just want to use the same tense in both locations.

In this case the difference the show "is" or "was" garbage is trivial. Saying it "is" garbage implies it is still garbage in the present while saying it "was" garbage simply implies it was at some point but doesn't technically say it still currently is. The underlying point (that the show is bad) is still the same.

In this case the reason using "would" has the effect of "softening" the statement is because it implies it is an opinion. Removing "would" from your 1st example "she is one of the most iconic [s]ingers" implies it is a fact and makes it more challenging for others to express different thoughts.

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  • Any tense can be used for the verb be here. In both sentences.
    – Lambie
    Aug 9, 2021 at 18:56
  • @craig lion So, "would" in the example 2 is also used for softening the statement and it does not force us to use past tense in the subordinate clause, am I right?
    – vincentlin
    Aug 26, 2021 at 6:55

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