Could you please tell me the meaning of 'would' in the following sentences:

1 He would seem to be getting better.
(Does it mean you the speaker lack of knowledge about his health?)

2 The answer would seem to be correct.
(Does it mean the speaker is hesitating?)

3 That's what I would call annoying.
(Why is would used here? Is it hypothetical situation or what?)

I found it quite difficult to know the meaning of 'would' in these sentences. I hope someone will help me with it.

3 Answers 3


I would suggest you think of this use of 'would' as a way of 'hedging'.

I would agree with JR's opinion that 'would' here just softens the feel or tone of the sentence.

The implicit hypothetical element would be something like "if my opinion had any value in it", "if you asked me", or "if I were in this situation".

I would say lots of learners have the same confusion as you.

As you can see, would in my sentences makes my statement less confident. I would be happy to accept better opinions than mine. :)


The short version - to a native American English speaker, 'would' makes these sentences not as certain. For example, "He is getting better" is a very certain statement, while "He would seem to be getting better" implies that you might be wrong.

The longer version - in each of these sentences "would" is a modal verb, meaning that it forms a compound with another infinitive verb (to seem and to call, in your examples). "Would" is the preterite of the modal verb "will", but is commonly used to express the subjunctive mood. In doing so, it expresses uncertainty. Other examples of preterites of modal verbs used to express doubt or uncertainty include:

"He could walk to the store." as opposed to "he walks to the store."

Where "could" is the preterite of the modal "can", meaning he is able to walk to the store but there's uncertainty whether he is going to or not.

"You should go." as opposed to "Go!"

Should is the preterite of the modal "shall" (not commonly used on its own in modern English) and is used to 'soften' a command. "You should go" is much politer than the command "go".

  • What is the meaning of my 3rd example sentence?
    – yubraj
    Apr 21, 2016 at 15:05
  • In your example of 'Could', what it refers to ? Past or present ability ?
    – yubraj
    Apr 21, 2016 at 15:19
  • Your third example is close to the same meaning as "I would call that annoying". If we compare it to "I call that annoying", your example sentence is slightly "softer". With "could", on its own, you're correct - it implies past ability. In the modal sense, though, it implies "he is able to walk, but might not".
    – noah
    Apr 21, 2016 at 15:30
  • In my 3rd example : That's what what i would call annoing" you said soften, soften means what ? And in your 1st example, could as a model refers to the present situation ?
    – yubraj
    Apr 22, 2016 at 2:54

The first two could easily be said as:

He seems to be getting better.
The answer seems to be correct.

In fact, that's probably how most native speakers would say it most of the time.

The use of "would seem" instead of "seems" doesn't really change the meaning; it just changes the feel or tone of the sentence.

As for the third:

That's what I would call annoying.

that might be reworded as:

I would call that annoying.

but context might prompt someone to use the longer wording:

You know what drives me crazy? When people pass me on the freeway, then get back in front of me, and then slow down slower than I was going! What's the point of passing me if you're just going to slow me down. Now that's what I'd call annoying!

That wording fits the mood of the narrative.

I understand why this might be hard to understand; would is perhaps one of the most difficult words to explain in English.

  • 'Would ' here in the sentence : That's what I would call annoying" shows the speaker's openion. Am i right ?
    – yubraj
    Apr 23, 2016 at 13:01
  • And in the 2 sentences: He seems to be getting better. The answer seems to be correct, "would" suggests the uncertainity of speaker, Am i right ?
    – yubraj
    Apr 23, 2016 at 13:04

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