This question is about why my friend Jane used would be in her response to a particular language question. Here's the question:

Lady Catelyn's husband was murdered by Joffrey who belongs to the >Lannisters and lives in King's Landing.

RENLY: My lady, I swear to you I will see the Lannisters answer for your husband's murder. When I take King's Landing, I'll bring you Joffrey's head.

CATELYN: It will be enough to know that justice was done, my lord.

Why use "was?" The event hasn't happened.

Here is Jane's response:

'Either "is" or "was" would be possible in that context. The idea of "was" would be:

  • "[looking back from the future] it will be enough to know that justice was done."

That is, justice will have been done already by the time we look back on it.'


1 Answer 1


As you stated, Jane's remarks are not about the Lannisters and possible justice, but about the structure of an English sentence, and she is discussing it in the context of the present-day English language. She could have replaced would be with is in both places - using simple present for her remarks. Using will be is incorrect here because it is simple future tense. It would mean Jane says that the word choice might not be correct now, but will be correct in some future version of the English language.

  • I'm still confused. "Would be" is a past form of "will". Why is the asnwer made in the past? Does the "would" have other uses in this case? Could you explain more clearly?
    – Nyambek
    Oct 22, 2023 at 10:40
  • Will be is future tense, not present tense. That is why Jane didn't use it here. I suppose one could argue that the "past" of the future includes the present, but in any case would be is sometimes used to mean is. It is often regarded as less blunt, or more polite, or more formal. Of course would be has many other uses as well.
    – Peter
    Oct 22, 2023 at 11:45
  • So it's a more hypothetical way of says that it is, isn't it? Is there something that omits in the use of "would be" here? An implied "if"?
    – Nyambek
    Oct 22, 2023 at 11:51
  • Sometimes there is an implied "if"; it might be "if I am correct". But consider the short dialog: Student: "The answer is 42". Maths teacher: "That would be right".
    – Peter
    Oct 22, 2023 at 12:01
  • Why does Maths teacher use "would be" instead of "is?" I'm a bit confused here.
    – Nyambek
    Oct 22, 2023 at 12:07

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