1. I thought you would come.

Here, I was thinking that you would come in the future, this sentence shows futurity in the past.

  1. I thought you would have come.

But here, I thought that you already came with the added meaning of "willingness" that's why I used "would have". Here I could have used "had come" but this would not have conveyed the added meaning of "willingness".

Am I right with this line of reasoning or not? Please explain if I'm wrong.

  • [I thought you had already come]
    – Lambie
    Sep 14, 2021 at 13:13
  • What's wrong with the second one? What does the 2nd sentence convey? Sep 14, 2021 at 13:16

2 Answers 2



3: I thought you would eat
4: I thought you would have eaten

...where #3 implies ...but I see you are not currently eating, and #4 implies ...but I see you did not eat earlier (in both cases, I thought something, but I was mistaken).

It just so happens that the Unmarked Infinitive and the Past Participle of to come are the same. But just as in my example, OP's #2 refers to an action that I thought would have already happened in the past. This leads to the likely (but not "fixed") interpretation that #2 refers to an occasion in the past when the addressee did not attend, whereas the most likely interpretation of #1 is that the addressee did just arrive (if not, he wouldn't be there to be spoken to! :).

Note that the difference between whether the speaker's preconceptions are/were confirmed or not primarily turns on whether stress is placed on thought or you (implies you did come; my expectations were confirmed) or on the word come (implies you didn't).

So what I wrote above about "likely" meanings only applies to a written text considered in isolation (with no context and no indication of stress patterns). Real language is spoken, and in practice there would be no ambiguity because native speakers would always indicate the intended meaning by the choice of which word to stress.

  • IF the addressee did just arrive then what's the need for even saying #1 lol? Sep 14, 2021 at 13:56
  • 1
    You wrote your examples, not me! Seriously, it would be perfectly natural for addressee to say I thought you would come! (or I thought you would come!, more strongly implying I expected that you of all people would be bound to come). It's a bit harder to imagine the context where stress falls on come in your example #1. But, for example, it would work fine if speaker was at the party, but talking on the phone to his friend (who he mistakenly expected to see at the party). Sep 14, 2021 at 14:03
  • My point is it depends on the intended meaning the speaker wants to convey. Let's take your example, in #3, lets assume A is the point in time the speaker "thinks" that listener was going to eat, let B be the point in time listener was supposed to "eat". So B comes after A here. And now in #4, B comes before A, that is, the speaker thought the listener must have already eaten. Sep 14, 2021 at 14:22
  • I don't really understand your "A" and "B" times. Are you trying to tell me something, or seek further clarification? In both your examples, I thought refers to a time in the past when the speaker thought something (which may be confirmed OR ruled out by later developments, as indicated by vocal stress). Where #1 implies he thought addressee would come now, and #2 implies he thought addressee would [have] come then. Sep 14, 2021 at 14:40
  • Let me poke at this from a different angle, how would you frame a sentence for when the speaker thought that the listener already ate but wanted to also add the meaning of "expectation", that is he expected him to have "already" eaten. Wouldn't #4 be the suitable sentence for that? That is when speaker was "thinking", he expected the listener to have already eaten. But #3 conveys when he was "thinking" the listener did not start eating. Sep 14, 2021 at 14:48

Sometimes seeing a context helps to understand usage.

Dialogue 1: PRESENT TIME
John: It was great that you asked me over for dinner tonight. I really wasn't busy.
Mary: Yes, I thought it would be a good time to invite you.
John: Oh, you're making shrimp?
Mary: Yeah, I thought you would eat that up in a flash.
John: I hate to tell you but I'm super allergic to shrimp.

[refers to the present: I thought you would eat that up when I invited you.]

Dialogue 2: PRESENT TIME

John: It was great that you asked me over for dinner last night. I really wasn't busy.
Mary: Yes, I thought it was good time to invite you.
John: Oh, but you made shrimp....
Mary: Yeah, I thought you would have eaten that up in a flash. I didn't know you were allergic. Oh, well, there's always a next time.

[would have eaten: refers to the night before]

  • I thought it might help to consider TO EAT rather than TO COME for the "thought about" action, but the OP's question specifically asks about the latter. Which arguably presents somewhat different issues when it comes to "interpretation of likely intended meaning" (with focus on the times at which things were done or thought, rather than the semantics of the actions themselves). Sep 14, 2021 at 15:10
  • @FumbleFingers Any verb can be used to illustrate: would + infinitive/would have + past participle.
    – Lambie
    Sep 14, 2021 at 15:31
  • look at this sentence- The Pandemic might just be the best thing that could have happened to your business! Why did they use "could have" when pandemic actually happened in reality. I thought "could have", "would have" constructions are used for imagined actions in the past that in reality did not happen. Sep 15, 2021 at 7:27
  • @English--moreexcthanlaws "that could have happened but didn't". Could have happened does not mean did happen. "This could have been the best experience of your life but, in fact, it wasn't."
    – Lambie
    Sep 15, 2021 at 14:40
  • Bruh, pandemic did happen, didn't it? So if it did happen how is that construction possible? Sep 15, 2021 at 15:08

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