Why does this sentence use "would have?" Why not say "Today is the birthday of our FA Cup winning captain, Jack Nicholas?"

Today would have been the birthday of our FA Cup winning captain, Jack Nicholas


  • You could use it is. It wouldn't be wrong. However, we often use "would have been" in English to speak of someone who is dead. For example: He would have been eighty years old today (if he were still alive). My mother would have been so proud of me (if she were still alive).
    – Billy Kerr
    Nov 30, 2023 at 13:29
  • @BillyKerr So "would have" is used for an event that didn't happen in the past. Is it correct? I'm kind of confused.
    – Nyambek
    Nov 30, 2023 at 13:30
  • We can use 'would have been' to discuss a previously scheduled or expected event that did not happen in the past, is not happening in the present, or will not happen in the future. Last Tuesday/today/next Wednesday would have been my wedding day if my fiancée had not run off with the guy at the garage. Nov 30, 2023 at 13:39
  • To be honest, not really in this case. Although "Would have been" can be used to talk of something in the past or the present which didn't happen, when we use it to speak of someone who is dead, it's a way of recognising their death in an indirect way. It's a bit like a kind of euphemism, i.e. to avoid saying that they are "dead". When you hear it used with a person, it means they are dead.
    – Billy Kerr
    Nov 30, 2023 at 13:48
  • Does this answer your question? What's the meaning of "would" in this sentence? Nov 30, 2023 at 14:57

2 Answers 2


It depends if he's still alive or not. "Is" is correct if he is alive, if not then "would have been" is correct. "Is" would not be actually incorrect if he was dead, but less usual.

The reason for "would have been" here is clearly and unambiguously to say that he is no longer alive. I haven't actually fact checked whether this is true or not!

  • Yes, Jack Nicholas (the English footballer) died in 1977.
    – Billy Kerr
    Nov 30, 2023 at 13:22
  • @BillyKerr - on 26 November of that year, aged 66. Nov 30, 2023 at 13:38

If he hadn't died, this would have been his birthday! There is an implied if clause.
Today would have been his birthday, if he were still alive.

if clauses can be implied or be expressly present. The footballer is long dead...

Past Conditional, in full, not implied

If your brother hadn't been so selfish, he would have bought you a present.

Implied conditionals

Sometimes, we use the IDEA of 'if' without using an 'if' clause.

For example:

A: We just went for ice cream.

B: Aww. I would have gone with you!

Person B is implying - "I would have gone with you IF I HAD KNOWN",

or "I would have gone with you IF I HAD BEEN HERE SOONER".

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