9

A native speaker doctor speaks about bone broth and its health benefits and the old days when this soup was always part of the dinners. He says:

It was considered a delicacy, and I can remember when we'd go to a fancy restaurant having a bowl of consomme was considered the ultimate in fine dining.

The part "...when we would go to ...." caught my attention. It all happened in the past. so, I would expect a simple past structure "....when we went to...".

And I can't understand why he used "would". Really, why did he say "when we would go to ...." instead of "....when we went to ....?

4
  • 1
    When we went to a fancy restaurant I had roast duck could be a reference to a single occasion, or something I did repeatedly over many years. Note that all four permutations of When we would / used to go to a fancy restaurant I would / used have roast duck are syntactically valid, but different speakers may have strong opinions about which they prefer, and which they really don't like. Plus there's another four permutations with plural restaurants, for which exactly the same caveats apply. Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 14:32
  • ...and if my maths is to be believed, eight more permutations with <nothing> after we, and another eight with <nothing> after I. But even if those numbers don't add up, there are a lot of "valid" permutations! Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 16:37
  • There's also an aspect of relative tense here. The speaker isn't remembering specific past trips to restaurants; they are remembering an opinion of restaurant dining they held in the past. That opinion is expressed as a statement of what he would consider a fancy meal in future trips to restaurants.
    – chepner
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 14:39
  • 1
    When quoting someone at length, alive or dead, famous or not, you should say who you are quoting from. It is always invaluable information. Is the speaker young, middle-aged or elderly? Australian or American? I shall never understand the hesitancy to attribute one's sources. So, -1 for the missing source.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 20:08

3 Answers 3

2

This use of would instead of used to after when was very uncommon until a few decades ago. It's still not that common, but it's certainly gaining traction...

enter image description here

It's worth noting that there's been very little change in the relatively frequency of would and used to in contexts other than a when- clause...

enter image description here

Note that NGrams is case-sensitive, so there won't be many examples involving when- clauses in that second chart (just a few We used to go there when we were young). So I'm pretty confident those two charts taken together accurately reflect a usage shift specific to used to / would with when- clauses.

Because I'm older I'm not so used to would here, so I find the usage a bit distracting / irritating. But undeniably it's becoming established, so if you like it, you can reasonably ignore the fact that old farts like me don't.

Whether (and how) you convey the fact that you're talking about a habitual past act is essentially a stylistic choice. But usage is definitely changing.


Note that it's not actually necessary to use used to or would in OP's context, because it's contextually very unlikely the speaker is talking about a single visit to a restaurant. Which in any case could be ruled out simply by saying I remember when we went to fancy restaurants...

7
  • 4
    The question is asking about the difference between "would go" and "went", which has to do with specific events vs. habits. You're comparing "would" and "used to", which is completely different. You also seem to be misreading the quote: "I remember [that] when we used to go to X, Y was true" is much less clear than "I remember [that] when we would go to X, Y was true". The doctor is remembering a time when a specific fact about going to restaurants was true; they're not simply remembering going to restaurants. "Would" is much better for that. Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 7:31
  • 2
    The problem with this answer is that you can't use ngrams to compare two equally correct but contextually different phrases. If ever the term 'comparing apples and oranges' meant something, this is it. Your answer looks impressive, but it does not answer the OP's question, even if they think it does.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 16:33
  • 1
    OP's exact question is Is it ok to use When we would go... like this?, to which the first part of my answer is a "qualified" Yes (but I personally don't like it, as laboriously explained). My third paragraph sets out why I think the charts are "meaningful", but obviously I knew what I was looking for before making the charts (support for my perception that would was very unusual in the context of utterances containing a when- clause). If you don't believe the presence of a when- clause makes any difference, why not just say that rather than criticise my methodology? Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 18:07
  • 2
    I tend to agree with @Astralbee - the question (currently) is whether "would go to" and "went to" are interchangeable. I don't see in the question where "used to" was even mentioned, unless it was a (kind of significant) edit. Would you consider revising your answer to explain why they are not interchangeable? I personally was quite confused by the answer, given the question, so I can only assume a non-native speaker would be more so.
    – Blackhawk
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 0:54
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I'm criticising your methodology because it is completely misleading. I occasionally use ngrams to settle matters such as where two words or phrases are completely interchangeable,identical in meaning, and the ngram merely gives an indicator as to which is more common. Using them to compare the use of two different things means nothing at all, except that you are more likely to use one more than the other even though you need to understand both. It's the sort of meaningless statistics that makes my Business Intelligence blood boil.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 14:30
31

'Would go' suggests a pattern, a habit, or multiple visits over a past period, for example:

We would go to France every year.

You can use 'went' to mean multiple occasions, but it can mean just one occasion, for example:

We went to France in 2010.
We went to France 5 times.

6
  • I understand now, thanks. So, it is another version of "used to" and it simply refers to habitual actions in the past. In that case, can we also say "When we used to go restaurant, ....."
    – Yunus
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 9:31
  • 1
    When we used to go to a restaurant/to restaurants... Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 11:30
  • 3
    If you are telling a story all in the past tense, it's common to use 'would' for a repeated occurrence. If you are mostly talking about current things, it is common to use 'used to' to describe something that no longer happens. Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 18:47
  • 4
    This should be the accepted answer. Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 22:42
  • 1
    I don't get this. The OP very specifically asks whether his example usage (a sentence starting with an adverbial When- clause, that uses would to convey "habitual action") is okay. My answer says I don't like that combination, but at least it's "acceptable". This answer doesn't even mention when- clauses, so the question might as well have been closed as a duplicate of any of several previous questions asking about "habitual would". Commented Mar 10, 2023 at 18:19
2

The auxiliary verb would is repeatedly heard in the podcast by Dr. Steven Gundry. Here are a few snippets

  • So, people would cook all of these meats that were attached to the bones for an extended period of time.
  • I grew up in the Midwest, and my mother would make a pot roast once a week, whether we wanted it or not. She would put it on the stove first thing in the morning, and it would cook all day.
  • She would also do the same thing with spare ribs. She would actually put them in a pot of sauerkraut and cook them all day.
  • Many of you can relate to the fact that consommé, which is basically beef broth, was considered a great soup, and even at fancy restaurants, you would start with a bowl of beef consommé, which was bone broth. If it was a really fancy restaurant, they would chill the beef consommé, and it would be literally a chilled bowl of gelatin with beef flavor. At that time it was considered a delicacy. I can remember when we’d go to a fancy restaurant, having a bowl of consommé was considered the ultimate in fine dining.

It is unremarkable the speaker uses would so frequently in his speech. He is after all recounting childhood memories, and would is used for recurring actions and events in the past; e.g. “people would cook…”, “my mother would make a pot roast”, “you would start with a bowl of…” and “we'd go to a fancy restaurant”. Replacing every would in the story with its past simple equivalent, changes the folksy style and mood; “people cooked” “my mother made a pot roast”, “you started with a bowl of beef consommé…” and “we went to a fancy restaurant” it also changes the meaning, as Astralbee explained in their answer.

The British Council website states clearly [emphasis mine]:

We can use would to talk about repeated past actions that don't happen any more.

Every Saturday I would go on a long bike ride.
My dad would read me amazing stories every night at bedtime.

would for past habits is slightly more formal than used to. It is often used in stories.

5
  • This answer provides useful context for the short extract the OP quoted in the question. It shows several examples of Dr. Gundry using "would" in describing sorts of actions that people would repeatedly do in the past. The example in the OP's extract is the only one where "would" is in a conditional statement's precondition. This is a different construction, and the question of how idiomatic it is is different from the more general question on how idiomatic it is to use "would" about repeated past events.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 8:20
  • @RosieF I don't think your analysis is correct. The speaker continues to reminisce about the past, "when we'd go to a fancy restaurant” It's plausible that he still goes to expensive restaurants but today consommé is rarely served, if at all, it is–excuse my French–démodé.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 9:12
  • So do you regard "having a bowl of consommé..." as essentially a different sentence? The OP puts no punctuation before "having", thus indicating that the preceding clause is this clause's precondition. Is it possible, then, that Dr. Gundry meant "I remember when we'd do A. We thought B." with no causal link, but OP misunderstood it as meaning "I remember: When we did A, we thought B." with a causal link?
    – Rosie F
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 9:21
  • The OP doesn't write a full sentence, they want to know why the past tense "went" wasn't used. Would is used because the speaker is still telling a "story", referring back to his childhood or during his younger years when customers used to / would order consommé. When was the last time any of us saw consommé on a menu? Maybe in a sophisticated retro NYC bistro or in one of Heston Blumenthal's establishments (unlikely).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 9:31
  • @RosieF The OP suggests "....when we went to..." nothing else is added. Your suggested analysis Is it possible, then, that Dr. Gundry meant "I remember when we'd do A. We thought B." with no causal link mirrors mine
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 9:37

You must log in to answer this question.

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