I have been told that modal 'would' can be used to express 'vagueness'. Its usage has been linked below but I'm not fully convinced because I don't know in what kind of context it would be appropriate to use 'would' for 'vagueness'. Does 'would' carry any kind of meanings in those contexts? Is it formal or natural? Or 'would' has been used just for softening the statement?

  1. [...] You use would , or sometimes would have with a past participle, when you are expressing your opinion about something or seeing if people agree with you, especially when you are uncertain about what you are saying. [vagueness] ⇒ I think you'd agree he's a very respected columnist. ⇒ I would have thought it a proper job for the Army to fight rebellion. ⇒ 'Was it much different for you when you started at the Foreign Office?'—'Worse, I'd expect.'. ⇒ I would imagine she's quite lonely living on her own.

Source: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/would

  • 1
    Vague seems a very, well, vague term for these uses. Tentative might be better, advancing an opinion you're unwilling to maintain too strongly, either because you are uncertain or because you don't want to appear too assertive. Jun 11, 2016 at 1:02
  • Could you please try to eliminate my confusion of 'would' for vagueness, contexual examples is needed to understand it. what kind of meaning 'would' carries when it's used in those contexts?
    – yubraj
    Jun 11, 2016 at 1:24
  • Not sure why they wrote "vagueness". I would go with "uncertainty" instead.
    – user3169
    Jun 11, 2016 at 2:35

3 Answers 3


I don't think that vagueness is at all a satisfactory way to describe the usage of would in any of the examples that the excerpt quoted.

Here is a much better definition of would meaning OPINION - used to express an opinion in a polite way without being forceful. Here are the examples that my link quotes:

I would think we need to speak to the headteacher about this first.

Here you are politely suggesting that we need to speak to the head teacher.

It's not what we would have expected from a professional service

Here you are politely saying that you expected better work from a professional- for example, an architect, accountant, builder or decorator.

If you find would used before words like say, think, expect, then one possible interpretation is that it is a polite expression of opinion- however many have other interpretations. If you are not sure, check out the would link above for other meanings. Here are some examples that definitely are polite opinions:

Even amidst the unpleasant reality of my divorce, I would expect somebody in the church to understand that there can surely be a note of justice and peaceful resolution in this process. Devotions for the Divorcing

I would think an emigration level at least as large as the 1985-1990 figure (130,000) would be more appropriate. Revised estimates and projections of international migration

I would expect from him enough work that I wouldn't feel guilty about asking him. Don't expect applause

I would say this, that the one thing you cannot do is to act not-acting. Holding and Interpretation

Note that we can make a polite opinion more formal by replacing I with one:

One would expect people to remember the past and imagine the future. Livelihood and Resistance

The example that you asked about:

I would have thought it a proper job for the Army to fight in the rebellion.

The speaker is politely expressing an opinion "It is the proper job of the army to fight in the rebellion". The view is expressed in the past "would have thought", which suggests that actual events differ from what the speaker expected. I don't know the context, but it seems likely that the army has not taken any action to deal with the rebellion.

  • What is the meaning of sentence "It's not what we would have expected from a professional service" is it in past tense?
    – yubraj
    Jun 11, 2016 at 10:32
  • It's what you would say if you ask a professional (architect, accountant, maybe even a decorator or builder) to do some work and they do not do a good job. Afterwards, you say "It's not what I would have expected...", describing what your opinion would have been before you saw the work they actually did.
    – JavaLatte
    Jun 11, 2016 at 10:50
  • You may be correct to say, i tend to understand simple english language. so, i haven't understood yet what you mean to say. It would be better if you could involve the meanings of such sentences clearly in your answer itself with simple language
    – yubraj
    Jun 11, 2016 at 11:33
  • I would like to draw the attention of other experts to this Topic: "Use of would for vagueness". I'm expecting the helpfull responses
    – yubraj
    Jun 11, 2016 at 13:11
  • Java Lette@ Do you mean to say that the sentence ''It's not what I would have expected from you" is conditional ? Because it looks likes that. If It's not, does it also imply the desire of the speaker ?
    – yubraj
    Jun 19, 2016 at 0:12

Using "would" to create vagueness is an option. "Would" creates a sense, in some cases, of potential or "the about to happen." Take a look at the example sentence below:

Would you like to go to the party?

In this question, "would" creates the potential options of "yes" or "no." We don't know the response yet, and because there are multiple responses, the result is impossible to determine, and thus, in loose terms, vague. You ave an example of a statement, not a question, so let's take a look at another example:

I would have thought it a proper job for the Army to fight in the rebellion.

In this sentence, "I would have thought..." implies that the speaker did think that it was a proper job at some point under some circumstances, but now has a different opinion. Once again, because we don't know what that opinion is, a vagueness becomes apparent.

The use of the word "would" can create some form of vagueness, but I do not feel that that is a good way of describing what the word does. "Would" makes a statement more indirect, which can open more doors of interpretation and thus create room for a form of vagueness. I like the idea of potential better that vagueness, but vagueness is still somewhat applicable.

  • Sam k@ And what about the example sentences that is in my question, it would be better if you could address them.
    – yubraj
    Jun 18, 2016 at 23:46
  • @yubrajsharma Well, out of the sentences you provided, only two of them use the word "would." I addressed the first one in my answer, and that explanation is much the same for the second one. "I would imagine" adds a hint of potential to the the normal verb "I imagine," which is more definite.
    – Sam K
    Jun 19, 2016 at 0:57
  • Sam k's@ I would like to ask you the same question that I've asked to@ java Lette . Please respond me.
    – yubraj
    Jun 19, 2016 at 7:04
  • I've asked JavaLette@ different questions but he hasn't replied me yet. I'm also asking the same question to you.
    – yubraj
    Jun 19, 2016 at 7:07
  • The reason he may not have replied is because the "@" has to go at the beginning of the name (@yubrajsharma). But anyways, the sentence you asked about in your comment is saying that whatever the professional service did, it was not what the speaker was expecting. It is in the perfect tense, so yes it is in the past tense. For your other questions, they don't make much sense, so I can't answer them.
    – Sam K
    Jun 19, 2016 at 14:46

My two pence. The term vagueness is indeed vague as someone else already mentioned but this is something Collins Dictionary people have chosen and, for justice's sake, they explained what they meant by this term in this very quote:

[...] You use would , or sometimes would have with a past participle, when you are expressing your opinion about something or seeing if people agree with you, especially when you are uncertain about what you are saying. [vagueness]

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