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He would leave the house in a muddle.

He insisted on leaving the house in a muddle.

What's the difference between the former sentence and the latter sentence?

(Here, would of the first sentence means the speaker's insistence.)

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  • The first sentence with would, absent other context, doesn't imply the involvement of any other person; it speaks only of his intention, whereas "insisted" implies the involvement of someone else who may have had a different opinion or desire than he did.
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 1:49
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    Insisted on rather implies that he did it on purpose; he would do it here implies annoyance that he habitually did so, probably just because he was an untidy person. Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 8:52
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    Insisted - crazy. would - lazy. Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 8:55

2 Answers 2

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The two sentences could mean similar, but only from a third-party perspective and in their opinion.

Saying "he would leave...." can mean it was his habit to leave in this fashion. It can also imply 'insist', but only if strong emphasis is put on the spoken word 'would' (perhaps that is what your italics implied, unless you were just highlighting the word for the purpose of the question).

This use of "insist" does not literally mean that the person demanded he be allowed to do something - it commonly means that they would not be told otherwise, or that they refused to acknowledge they were disorganised.

'A muddle' means a disordered, confused state, or a mess. I don't think anyone is leaving the house at the protest of their family saying "no, no - I really must insist that I leave the house in this disordered mess". While some people surely are disorganised, that is my opinion. In the opinion of the muddled individual, they might be just fine. It really means a defiance of anything to the contrary.

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  • Many thanks for your helpful reply.
    – gonju yi
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 9:55
  • So, in BrE, does saying that someone "insisted on leaving the room a mess" imply that they have been asked to be neater but are being recalcitrant, refusing to do so? Or only that they are inveterate slobs?
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 12:52
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British Council English (but the usage applies to AmE also):

Do you know how to talk about past habits using used to, would and the past simple? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how used to, would and the past simple are used.

They used to live in London.
I didn't use to like olives.
We would always go to the seaside for our holidays. But one holiday we went to the mountains instead.

  • He would always leave the house in a muddle. would=used to leave, same meaning

Difference between used to and would:

They both refer to something that was habitual in the past but their is a difference:

[...] there are two important differences between used to and would. The first difference is that would should not be used unless it has already been established that the time frame is in the past, while used to does not require this. This example, with used to at the beginning, sounds natural:

I used to watch cartoons every Saturday morning when I was very little. Now I rarely watch TV.

However, when used to is replaced with would, the same example becomes awkward and ungrammatical:

*I would watch cartoons every Saturday morning when I was very little. Now I rarely watch TV. But if the past time frame is established before would appears, would sounds fine.

When I was little, I would get up and watch cartoons every Saturday morning. Now I rarely watch TV.

The second difference between used to and would is that would is not used with stative verbs such as love, be, understand, and feel. Compare these two sentences with the stative verb love:

When I was a student, I used to love sleeping late on the weekends.
(natural and grammatical)
*When I was a student, I would love sleeping late on weekends. (awkward and ungrammatical) To summarize, the use of would is more restricted than that of used to. Therefore, if you aren't sure which one to use, it's best to choose used to. Britannica Dictionary

Merriam Webster: to insist
intransitive verb

1 : to be emphatic, firm, or resolute about something intended, demanded, or required They insist on going.

So would is a habitual action in the past, in this case, the same as used to, whereas to insist is just to be emphatic about something. If you insist on doing something, it is not necessarily habitual at all.

There really is no relationship between to insist on doing something and the use of would for habitual action. Would does not mean: to insist on doing something.

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