This is from a BBC video, in which people in a spacecraft are shown when they are allowed to unbuckle to experience the zero gravity in a spacecraft. People in a spacecraft (see:00:24-00:30). The presenter says:

They would have had lots of training and lots of anticipation and buildup.

The presenter knows very well that they are trained and are informed about this journey. So why does the presenter use the Type 3 structure as if it was an unreal past which is irreversible. "They would have had lots of training ......" instead of "They have had lots of training ...."?

Is it because the presenter is making a guess or giving his opinion on how well-informed they might be?

  • 1
    It's like saying a friend flying to Paris would have landed by now when you don't know it, but it makes sense. If she called, then she landed. If there's a pattern of training, then these astronauts would have had lots of such training, but you don't that for a fact. Aug 31, 2023 at 5:16
  • "To experience zero gravity, they will have lots of training." To experience zero gravity, they would have had lots of training". Here would is the past tense of will.
    – Lambie
    Aug 31, 2023 at 14:59

2 Answers 2


I believe this a narrative resource. I have came up with two possible interpretations (wich are not mutually exclusive):

  • Tentative language
    The narrator is trying to make the experience more immersive by taking the viewer's point of view, in order to suggest that they are highly likely to have received training (thus, hinting that the narrator is aware of it, or that it can be deduced by the context).
    This is structure is frequently used in documentaries (at least, this is what I feel when I watch documentaries in Spanish, as this kind of structure does appear sometimes).
  • Speech style
    Documentaries also frequently make use of unusual sentence structures to make the experience more engaging. This interpretation is harder to justify, but I do have an example in mind to share, see if it helps to understand this.

The following quote is from a documentary that is about inhumane working conditions. I do not recall exactly which was the title, but it is not important for our purpose:

The workers hunched over the vines like ducks, there is no air, making the intense heat all but unbearable.

Which would normally be simply said as

The workers hunched over the vines, making the intense heat unbearable.

Edit #1

As pointed out by @KateBunting, the given example is not good because I misinterpreted the syntactic structure of the sentence.
A better example follows:

Then, in a burst of raw power and agility, the lioness springs forward. The chase is on.

Which, in a less convoluted language, could be simply said as:

Then the lioness springs forward. The chase is on.

  • 3
    Surely it was the lack of air which made the heat unbearable, so the phrase can't be omitted. Aug 31, 2023 at 14:03
  • What you are referring is to the fact that there is some loss of information, what I am referring to is the preservation of coherence even if the clause were to be omitted. Aug 31, 2023 at 14:35
  • 2
    The sentence makes no sense if the clause is omitted. Aug 31, 2023 at 14:36
  • Why would it be? This ellipsis either means that the narrator is leaving the root cause of the unbearable heat as an open topic (left to the reader to ponder about) or it can be infered by context. I can still read this sentence and logically deduce that it has something to do with their previous action. Albeit not knowing the specifics. Aug 31, 2023 at 14:40
  • 1
    It was not the 'workers hunching over the vines', but the lack of air, that made the heat unbearable. Aug 31, 2023 at 16:23

Modals generally have an epistemic meaning (about the speaker's knowledge) as well as a deontic meaning (about possibilities and necessities in the physical or social world).

It is sometimes difficult to know which is being used, but here would have is epistemic, and means something like "I expect that they had".

You must log in to answer this question.

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