I quote the following from two different sources:

1) a PDF file on 'would':

In hypothetical situations

You can use would to talk about unreal or hypothetical situations. These are situations that we are imagining.

(i) That restaurant would be too expensive. (so we won’t go there!)

(ii) I would get seasick with those huge waves so we’re not going on the boat trip.

Why are the above sentences considered as hypothetical situations?

2) An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage (Book)

Would as the unreal form of will

Refusal (with the negative).

E.g. Jack wouldn't help you, even if you begged him.

(Compare: Jack won't help you, even if you beg him.)

How can 'would' be paraphrased in each situation?

  • What exactly is the real-world problem you face? Is it that you don't understand the use of would in your cited examples? Or that you just want to say the same thing using alternative phrasing (not easily done here, I think)? Jun 24 at 14:34
  • 1) Are you asking why English grammar is the way it is? Or are you asking how to tell whether a particular "would" indicates a hypothetical or something else?
    – gotube
    Jun 24 at 16:57
  • 1
    The situations are hypothetical because we are not going to the restaurant or taking the boat trip. Jun 24 at 18:30
  • In the first two sentences, why did the speaker use 'would' is instead of 'will' or the 'present tense', what makes them hypothetically think that the restaurant 'would be' rather than 'is' expensive, and I 'would' rather than 'will' get seasick. As for the last two, what is the difference in MEANING between 'wouldn't' and 'won't' since you'll get the same result: In both cases, you won't get help from Jack?
    – J.a.deb
    Jun 25 at 9:15
  • In the (i) and (ii) sentences, an "if clause is implicit : (i) if we go to this restaurant, (ii) if we embark. For refusal, you may say "Jack will probably/certainly refuse to help you.
    – Graffito
    Jun 25 at 9:57

2 Answers 2


1 They are hypothetical because the reality is that the restaurant isn't too expensive for the speaker - the restaurant won't cost them anything because they won't go to the restaurant. It is hypothetically expensive in the imaginary situation that the speaker does go to the restaurant. The same analysis applies to the other example.

  1. The situation is unreal because you didn't ask Jack to help you. The real situation is that nobody asked Jack to help, so Jack didn't refuse. The unreal situation imagines that someone did ask Jack and says what would happen.

You could paraphrase "You didn't ask Jack to help and Jack didn't help. But suppose you had asked Jack to help, In that case also Jack didn't help".

Note your example seems to be missing the word "had" (it should be "... even if you'd begged him).


Why are the above sentences considered as hypothetical situations?

Language is very flexible, and you're free to make statements that are either hypothetical or not.

For example:

"We will go to the restaurant" is a confident-sounding prediction of the future.

"The restaurant is expensive" sounds like a basic, correct statement.

It's not required to add "would". If you do, then the sentence takes on a uncertain, unreal quality.

"The restaurant would be too expensive..."

Now you are implying that you won't go to the restaurant. Going to the restaurant becomes an imagined possibility.

Refusal (with the negative). "E.g. Jack wouldn't help you, even if you begged him."

Reviewing that specific sentence, brings to mind the question: "Is it certain that you will ask Jack for help?"

If definitely yes, you may say:

"Jack won't help you."
"Jack won't help you, when you go to ask him."

However, if it's uncertain that you're going to ask him, then the entire scenario is hypothetical, imaginary, and merely possible. Then we might say:

"He would help you, if you asked him. But you might not ask him."

Let's consider some alternatives from the perspective of grammar:

"Jack won't help you, even if you begged him." (* not recommended)

"begged" is past tense, indicating a conditional mood, and so to be consistent, the whole expression should be conditional, and "would" probably sounds better.

How about:

"Jack won't help you, even if you beg him."

This is probably OK. In simple English you may just use simple grammatical constructions.

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