In ordinary times, before 9/11, she was the type of girl mothers hauled into his office seeking solace for not having dates and fitting in with the hot crowd at school. While guiding her to an understanding that her parents' divorce wasn't her fault, he would have searched for ways to assure Morgan that she might spend high school and college with fewer boyfriends than the hottest girls in her class, but would have many deep friendships, while concentrating on the things she was good at — her science projects, her music, her sailboat racing.

-- From The Ripple Effect by Paul Garrison

One day in mid-May 1919, the historian and journalist Heinrich Friedjung was probably browsing through the showrooms of the Dorotheum auction house in central Vienna. After leaving the Franz Josef room on the first floor, where the auction of furniture and household goods of the late former imperial Austrian minister president, Ernest von Koerber, was in progress, Friedjung would have gone up to the second floor. When he stepped into the Rössler room, nothing could have kept him from examining the books on display there. Friedjung had at this time been cultivating a many-layered interest in Ernest von Koerber for nearly twenty years, and he would not have missed out on his possibly only chance of examining Koerber's library. He would have searched for the inscribed copy of Friedrich Naumann's Mitteleuropa.

-- From Empire and Identity: Biographies of the Austrian State Problem in the Late Habsburg Empire by Fredrik Lindström

I have searched in Google books for "would have searched". I found the two above examples didn't quite fit with the normal hypothetical use of "would have done.."

My best guess is that those bold structures are past form of "will have done..", signifying the author's presumption about past events. Or, they are just past form of "would have done..", a more tentative assumption than "will have done.."?

Could you please parse them for me? If the text was written in the present narrative tense, would the "would have done.." form remain the same?

1 Answer 1


Both of these passages present imaginary, hypothetical narratives: stories which the author invites you to consider as something which might have happened.

In the first the foreground character—a psychologist?—imagines what sort of advice he would have been called upon to give Morgan if she had come to him before 9/11.

In the second the author imagines an occasion when Friedjung might have visited the Dorotheum and what might have been passing through Friedjung's mind on that occasion.

The past-tense modals mark these as irrealis; the have + PaPpl construction serves to mark these as occurring in the past.

  • I searched the phrase with the intention of getting examples of speculative use of "would've done..". It seems I failed again. I thought the imaginary element was a possibility, and I sensed there was some overlap between pure imagination and inference. Could you plz cite a couple aunthentic inferential examples for me? I realize there is no tense or inflection in Chinese, which makes English modal verbs so hard for me.
    – Kinzle B
    Sep 28, 2015 at 1:01
  • @KinzleB Well, these are inferentials from speculative premises ... For an open premise? "If John was in Philadelphia on Tuesday he would have stayed with his sister; you might call her and see if she knows where he is." Sep 28, 2015 at 1:54
  • I deleted my previous comment; I think it was a bad question. Language should has her vagueness or subtlety, just like a beauty. Any syntactic or semantic analyses would be just one way of getting close to her for a better look. Sometimes this approach could be just effective while in other cases just rude or blunt enough to scare her away. I would go on to explore the labyrinth of modal verbs not just to get something useful, but to appreciate more of her elegance from different angles.
    – Kinzle B
    Sep 28, 2015 at 21:23
  • @KinzleB Ah! You have achieved wisdom! Sep 28, 2015 at 22:06

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