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Katia asks John to tell her whatever he knows about her father. John responds with Litvenko's age, medical condition (rheumatoid arthritis) and that he speaks several different languages - including Tamil. He also says that he has stage 3 lung cancer. With these facts, Katia figures out that her dad would be living in a country which has a warm climate where orchids can grow, moreover with advanced medical treatments available.

Source: Hitman: Agent 47

I think the bolded would is epistemic, signifying a higher possibility than could/might, but less sure than will.

The question is how to backshift it. I think it would be:

Katia figured out that her dad would have been living in a country which had a warm climate where orchids could grow...

But this backshift could bring an ambiguity with it.

Consider this:

Katia figures out that her dad will have been living in a country which had a warm climate where orchids could grow...

If we backshift it, I think it would be the same as the former.

Did I get it right?

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    I suppose some speakers in some contexts might feel that would is "less sure" than will, but in most contexts such a fine distinction would be neither intended nor understood. But note that I thought it would be true usually implies that the speaker now knows it's true, whereas I thought it would have been true usually implies the speaker now knows it's not true. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '15 at 17:48
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    As TRomano suggested, "would have been true" could be epistemic and factual as well. We could roughly paraphrase it as "it is very likely that sth was/has been true". I got confused. I think TRomano would have been right about it. Perhaps it'll turn out he was right! :) @FumbleFingers – Kinzle B Dec 13 '15 at 4:52
  • After reading all your comments, I think you are saying the OP's example sounds unnatural to your ears. Perhaps that's because Wikipedia is re-edited by people who speak different dialects. I think "will be living" would be more apt here. What's your take on it? @FumbleFingers – Kinzle B Dec 24 '15 at 14:33
  • The potential nuance of difference between [will or would] be / have been living is that the perfective form (have been) more explicitly focuses on the more extended (including past, rather than just present) period during which her dad has living in some speculated location. In context, this might be more relevant if Katia was wondering whether her father might be particularly sun-tanned, say (if and when she actually meets him), whereas will/would be living might work better if she's wondering whether right now he's sitting huddled over a warming fire, perhaps. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 24 '15 at 15:32
  • Would "With these facts, Katia figures out that her dad would LIVE in a country.." fit in this context as well? Your answer will be very important to me. I have found a very interesting linguistic paper relevant to my issue here: A pragmatic analysis of the epistemic would construction in English books.google.com/books?isbn=3110176866 @FumbleFingers You might want to take a look. You could read all except one page which I don't think matters too much. :) – Kinzle B Dec 24 '15 at 15:58
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If Katia is trying to figure out, from clues which are not stale, where her father is likely to be living now, then would is the correct verb.

Katia figures out that her dad would be living in a country which has a warm climate... [etc]

If she is trying to figure out, from stale clues, where her father is likely to have been living when the clues were fresh, then we would say:

Katia figures out that her dad would have been living in a country which has a warm climate... [etc]

You are correct.

But if Katia is trying to guess, from clues whose freshness or staleness is unknown, where her father is likely to have been living or to be living, then we would say:

Katia guesses that, when they find her dad, he will have been living in a country which has a warm climate... [etc]

  • I doubt there would be consistent agreement among native speakers on these matters, but personally I don't agree with the usage in your first scenario. For present tense speculation, I think my dead cat would be living in cat heaven sounds rather strange/circumlocutory to me. I'd be much more likely to say I think my dead cat will be living in cat heaven (past tense would pairs with past tense I thought...) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 13 '15 at 14:17
  • The verb that invites the backshifting here is "figure out" (like suppose, guess, conclude, figure, reckon, surmise, conjecture, ... etc). Does your "ear" feel the same if you change that sentence about your cat to use "suppose" instead of "think"? What happens if you also tack onto the end of the sentence "if he hadn't been such an alley-cat here on Earth"? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 13 '15 at 14:43
  • I don't think it would make any difference to me which specific verb was involved. But obviously if we tack on an if-clause, the whole nature of the surmise changes. We're no longer talking about where I think my cat is, but where I think he would be if the situation were different. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 13 '15 at 14:48
  • RIght, I was using that if-clause just to get a baseline to make sure your ear wasn't broken. :) I grant that some speakers might feel no inclination to backshift with this class of verb. But for those who do backshift, a sentence like "From those clues, I reckon my dad would be living in a warm climate..." is natural, because while it is not a counterfactual statement, neither is it a simple statement of fact. If I changed "I suppose" to "I am willing to bet", then I''d find "will be living" natural. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 13 '15 at 15:02
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    I've raised this on ELU – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 13 '15 at 19:06
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I looked up Quirk et al.'s Comprehensive Grammar, and it says (Unit 14.34):

If a modal auxiliary in the direct speech is already in the past tense form, then the same form remains in the indirect speech.

  • "When I was in college I would study till two or three in the morning,' she recalled.
  • She recalled that when she (was/had been) in college she would study till two or three in the morning.

According to the book, "the modal auxiliary (would) has past time reference in the direct speech, and therefore backshift entails changing to the perfective (would have studied)."

Naturally, changing it to the perfective either in Quirk's or in your example would change the meaning to "counterfactual" (would have been living means he did not in reality live there). So I guess the answer is "no". We should leave would in its preterit form.

Katia figured out that her dad would be living in a country which had a warm climate where orchids could grow...


As regards your concern concerning the backshifting of will have been living..

Since Future Perfect Continuous indicates duration before some point in the future, such a sentence would contain an expression that would make the meaning clear even with backshifting to would have been living:

Katia figures out that her dad will have been living in a country which has a warm climate for 10 years before she will be able to discover him.

Backshifting:

Katia figured out that her dad would have been living in a country which had a warm climate for 10 years before she would be able to discover him.

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