I know there are counter-factual sentences like "If I were a bird, I would fly to you."; it is the exact opposite of the speaker's current, definite state. However, I am wondering if a sentence like "That director would hate this kind of movie." is also possible. This is not a counterfactual, but a factually obscured imagination. There is no conditional clause here, no fact that the director liked or disliked the movie. It is the speaker's imagination of the director.

P.S. If the subject's situation is unknown and the sentence does not express a counter-factual, is it still treated as a past subjunctive?

  • There's quite a few cases where would isn't a counter-factual (eg. "A: Someone is at the door. B: That would be Steve" meaning "that very likely is Steve"), but I'm not sure your example is one - it just makes the unreal conditional implicit (the director doesn't hate this movie, but he would hate it if he saw it). Commented Jul 11 at 7:54
  • Anything with "if" is counterfactual. That said, there is no past subjunctive in English. That director would hate this kind of movie. [implies an if though not stated].
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 11 at 14:50
  • @Lambie If a speaker does not know whether the director likes or dislikes the movie or whether he has seen it or not, is it treated as a simple inference rather than a counterfactual?: "I don't know whether the director has seen the movie or not, or whether he likes it or not, but I think that being his character, he would hate the movie."
    – user189378
    Commented Jul 12 at 1:18
  • @Maciej - I thinmk your example of "That would be Steve" is an example of the epistemic use of "would", and there is no conditional or counterfactual involved.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 12 at 14:42
  • I answered that: X would hate this movie. [if he saw it]. An if clause is implied.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 12 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


Yes, that is a natural sentence.

I think there is an implied conditional "If that director saw this kind of movie, they would hate it".

Alternatively, it might be an epistemic reading of the modal "would", (all modals have an epistemic meaning as well as their usual deontic one) but I don't think it is in this case.

  • I'm confused because in my country's English education, there was no mention of sentences like this. We were only taught that the past subjunctive almost exclusively expresses counter-factuals. Would a native speaker treat a sentence like this as the past subjunctive? Sorry for asking so persistently, but I've been wondering about this for years.
    – user189378
    Commented Jul 11 at 7:28
  • Your link is broken. Did you mean to link a Google search or something specific? Commented Jul 11 at 7:55
  • Thank you Maciej - now corrected.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jul 11 at 13:59
  • Right, the conditional is implied in sentences like that. I would have told you this. [if you had asked me]. People hand out dvs that are inaccurate. This answer is correct.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 11 at 14:51

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