"Emma, please, some funds."
"How much, Jack?" she said.
He turned to me. "Do you owe much rent?"
"Too much," I said.
"Make it three hundred, Emma," he said.
"Never mind," he said as I showed my surprise at the sum. "This will pay your debts and buy you clothing. Call me in the morning and I'll have selected your living quarters. For a start your salary will be sixty dollars a week." (Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man)

Would’ can be used for talking about either an incident that will happen after speech time or after a past reference time. In the example, ‘I’d have selected’ can be used instead of ‘I’ll have selected,’ if we ignore the semantic difference between the two –– I guess the former puts some more psychological distance from the future event when they are saying. Is there some wrong in this?

1 Answer 1


"Will have" refers to an event in the future that precedes some other event in the future. "By the time the police arrive, I will have hidden the evidence." At some point in the future the police will arrive. Before that time, but still after the present time, I will hide the evidence.

"Would have" refers to a past hypothetical. It is used when you want to say that an event didn't happen, but that in some alternate universe where conditions where different, it did happen. (Okay, that's an odd wording, but I'm struggling how to express the idea without using the words "would have". To say, "would have" refers to something that would have happened ..." probably doesn't help. :-) Like, "If Sally had passed the test, she would have gotten the job." Sally didn't pass the test and didn't get the job, but if she had passed the test, then she would have gotten the job. "Jack would have won a fair contest." Jack lost the contest, but if it had been fair, he would have won. (Or perhaps there never was any contest, but if there had been a fair one, he would have won. Depends on context.) The condition doesn't necessarily have to be spelled out in a simple IF/THEN construct. You could say, "Mr Smith died before I was born. I would have liked to have known such a man." In this case the condition is clear from the context: if our life-spans had overlapped. It could certainly be more subtle.

I'm struggling to think of any other use of "would have". If another poster here thinks of one, please feel free to shout it out.

You could not use "would have" instead of "will have" in the above paragraph, because (a) there is no condition on Jack selecting the living quarters, and (b) even if there was, "would have" is used for past events, not future events.

  • I'd have thought it's not difficult to come up with contexts where would have (or a contraction thereof) doesn't apply to "the past". And it's really straining the meaning of "conditional" to say there's an implied condition in my previous sentence. What possible "condition" governs whether or not I think what I think? (or thought what I thought, if we're going to get pedantic! :) Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 23:04
  • Hmm, really? My reaction to that sentence is, "You would have thought that ... if only what?" Are you saying that "I'd have thought ..." means that you are thinking that now, in the present, with no implied condition? I just don't read the sentence that way. If I want to tell people that I'm thinking something now, I say "I think ..." or "I am thinking ...", not "I would have thought ..."
    – Jay
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 14:21
  • All I can say is in my experience (primarily of UK speakers) people often say I'd have thought when what they really mean is I think. It's just a kind of "distancing circumlocution" that often conveys more a sense of polite deference, rather than hesitant uncertainty or conditionality. Plus, of course, standard principles of sarcasm mean it can be used witheringly/haughtily. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 15:07

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