In DC’s Titans (season 3 episode 1), Barbara said to Dick that she was helping “whoever Bruce would have recruited next”. I know intuitively that ‘would have’ can be used in relation to the present or future when we talk about things that are impossible. For example, when we talk about a deceased person, we more often say “He/She would have been proud”, and not “would be proud” (although it’s also correct). Can anyone formulate a more precise rule, or is it just a matter of probably not (would) and impossible (would have)? Thanks a lot!

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    The difference between #1 It would be nice [if something happened] and #2 It would have been nice [if something had happened] isn't really between "probably not" and "impossible". It's more a matter of saying that #1 implies still possible, whereas #2 implies no longer / never was possible. This is in line with other aspects of verb inflections that don't directly relate to Past, Present, Future - we often use Past rather than Present to imply further from Present = further from reality. Presumably Bruce is dead or otherwise inactive, so won't recruit anyone. Dec 8, 2021 at 15:45
  • Thank you! That’s an excellent explanation! So you’re saying we usually use ‘would have’ for the past not just because it’s the past, but rather because it’s always no longer possible to change the past?
    – Alon
    Dec 8, 2021 at 15:52
  • And just to clarify, Bruce isn’t dead or anything, but I think Barbara thought that what she had said to him would discourage him from recruiting anyone.
    – Alon
    Dec 8, 2021 at 15:59
  • Forget "past" here - that's just a label for the most common verb form after "present", and often it doesn't really have much to do with past = previous = earlier. It often just means "not present", where "present" has strong connections with "here and now, in reality", so "not present" can imply anything from "not definitely true" to "definitely not true". That's to say, we usually use ‘would have been’ rather than 'would be' when talking about things that are further from present reality (perhaps because they couldn't possibly happen). Dec 8, 2021 at 16:01
  • Got it, thank you for the detailed explanation!
    – Alon
    Dec 8, 2021 at 17:54


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