I am still unsure about when to use 'would' and when 'will' while making conjectures about the events in the past. Is the difference merely in the degree of certainty?

Besides, I am not sure what difference is between:

  1. It won't have BEEN millions... (stressed main verb)
  2. It won't have been millions... (unstressed main verb)

Source: https://youtu.be/OunzCSCt43w?t=806 Would I Lie to You S17 E6. Non-UK viewers. 2 Feb 24

  • 1
    The questions are a little confusing, you might want to narrow it down -- break it into separate questions about conditional phrasing (would vs. will?) and the "have been" phrases you give as examples.
    – user8356
    Commented Feb 20 at 14:52
  • Please explain the context in which you think it makes sense to put heavy stress on the word been here. Usually, if there was any stress at all, it would normally fall on millions (often, reflecting speaker emphasizing that someone else's reference explicitly or implicitly exaggerated the number). OR stress might be put on won't when speaker is baldly refuting someone elses claim that it was "millions". I don't say stress can't be put on been, but it's certainly unlikely for a native Anglophone. Commented Feb 20 at 16:07
  • (Your link to a source video doesn't work for me, based in the UK.) Commented Feb 20 at 16:09
  • The speaker is joking, he does not stress BEEN, and there's a clash between won't and been as future and past. Not recommended for learners, if that's the question. "It won't have been millions" says that in the future, we will not see that the numbers have been (were) that high. Commented Feb 20 at 16:33
  • I just realised the link is for "non--UK viewers", so I switched to a US vpn to access it. I'd say David Mitchell does in fact place "secondary stress" on been there. It's not "primary stress", because he's not really disagreeing with what previous speaker said - he's asking for clarification. Reason being she said it felt like millions, so he's simply pointing out that there's obviously a difference between what it felt like, and what it actually was. He might just as well have stressed It wasn't actually millions... or even It wasn't millions... Commented Feb 20 at 18:57

1 Answer 1


I don't understand "it won't have been millions" as a statement about the past but as a projection into the future concerning the as yet unknown facts of a recent event.

Man, on the TV it looked like the crowd at the capitol was in the millions!

-- That was just the camera angle. You'll see. It won't have been millions.

If we were speaking about the past, we'd use wouldn't:

Millions of Londoners died from the plague in the 14th century.

--No, it wouldn't have been millions. The population of London in the 14th century is thought to have been well under 100,000.

  • You mean, 'It won't have been millions... ' = 'The evidence will (or may?) emerge in the future that this statement was inaccurate' ?
    – sanya6
    Commented Feb 21 at 14:16
  • Close. The evidence will surely emerge that your sense of the number is greatly exaggerated. The speaker is confident that the other person's number is wrong.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 21 at 14:41

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