I was looking at some uses of would and found it frustrating. What was particularly hard for me to grasp was the use of would in affirmative sentences.

Here are a few examples.

You would have to come to the practice at 8'o clock now that you have made it to the team.

Do you think she's coming? I'm sure she would.

These sentences are not hypothetical. These sentences are full of certainty. Then my question is, why do they use would? Is it something like "I would like to", some set idiom phrases that mark politeness?

So I guess my real question is this. Does every sentence become polite if it has "would" in it? Is it why would is used in above sentences?

  • These sentences sound very strange to me. I can come up with similar sentences where "would" feels natural, but these do not sound like normal conversational English (at least in America). Can you tell a little about where you found them?
    – leoger
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 23:32
  • Yes, the 'tentative' use of preterite "would" does generally introduce a vague sense of diffidence or politeness when used instead of present tense "will". But this not a subjunctive clause; what makes you think it is?
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 7:36
  • @BillJ What do you mean? grammarist.com/grammar/subjunctive-mood Would is used in second conditional clauses that expresses improbable situations. Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 19:54
  • The first few examples in that website are focusing on the use of the so-called past-subjunctive verb "were" (if I were. I wish I were etc). Then they go on to talk about the mandative subjunctives, such as the ones I quoted. "Would has nothing at all to do with the subjunctive mood.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 20:09

2 Answers 2


You would have to come to the practice at 8 o'clock now that you have made it to the team.

Do you think she's coming? I'm sure she would.

I find it very difficult to imagine anyone actually saying or writing these sentences.

  • The first states a definite situation, that you have made the team, and the consequence which now that calls for should be definite, too: you will have to come to practice.

  • The second is perplexing: the question "Do you think she's coming?" in effect contradicts your certainty. If you're sure, why do you ask?

Would is not justified in either of these; it is not used for "politeness" in this sort of context.

But the two versions you supply in the comments are entirely different.

You would have to be here for the games and any practices that you schedule, they both take place on Tuesday and Thursday.

In this one the definite situation, "now you have made the team", is gone, so we are free to suppose that it appeared in a context which expressed a contingency, a condition which might or might not be true:

Congratulations! You have made the team! We hope you will have time to participate: you would have to &c...

You may or may not have the time, so the coach sets forth the requirements; if you were able to meet this schedule you would be able to accept the invitation to join the team.

Why don't you invite Mary? I'm sure she'd come.

The question makes it clear that you don't know whether Mary has been invited, so it is quite easy to infer that her coming is contingent on her being invited:

I'm sure she would come if you invited her.

  • Thank you for the answer. I agree with you that the "congratulation..." sentence contains a considerable amount of contingency, as it is less forceful and commanding that the one with "now that". However, I still cannot understand how "would" is used here, as I learned that the second conditional (the one used ---if clause is implied in congratulation sentence) is used only when the chance of event's taking place is unreal or impossible. But the situation in congratulation in sentence is perfectly capable of taking place, which made me think that I HAVE TO use "will" instead of would. Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 23:06
  • Here is the link about second conditional. ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conditional2.htm Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 23:06
  • 2
    @quetchalcoatle You're sufficiently advanced in your command of English to ignore the "baby rules" about 1st/2nd/3rd conditionals you were given to introduce you to conditionals: they're just pedagogical conveniences and don't represent anything real in English syntax. Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 23:11
  • Ah....it's quite a shock to me. This is the rule I abided by for a very long time. Then "would" can be used in the place of a probable condition that is realistic and possible to happen? Then is there no difference between would and will when it comes to conditionals? Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 0:22
  • @quetchalcoatle Use of the modal verbs has been evolving for 900 years, and one of the generalizable trends is a tendency for the past-tense forms to to evolve senses of their own, independent of their present-tense forms. Must has completely effaced its old present-tense form, should and might are close to doing the same thing with shall and may, and would is drifting in that direction. Trying to find regular "rules" for the modals is very iffy. Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 0:43

There are many meanings and usages of would, as this link shows. Certainly, some of them are a more polite way of saying something.

Compare these two sentences:

You will have to come to the practice at 8 o' clock now that you have made it to the team.

You would have to come to the practice at 8 o'clock now that you have made it to the team.

The first is a simple statement of fact: it would suggests that all team members are required to come at 8 o'clock, so this applies to you.

The second is a polite suggestion: it would be a good idea to come at 8 o'clock.

Do you think she's coming? I'm sure she will.

Do you think she's coming? I'm sure she would.

The first is a simple statement of opinion: you think that she will definitely come. The second could express possiblility, willingness, probablility (see the link for examples). You would need to know a little more about the context of the sentence to work out what specific meaning is intended. None of these implies any additional politeness on the part of the speaker.

  • So these are natural uses? What puzzles me is how "have to" can be used with would. Have to implies that it is set, and won't change unless a violation results, right? Well I guess it can be a polite suggestion, but then you say that this use of would is equivalent to saying it would be a good idea to come at 8'o clock, which I think kind of means: You can come at 8, but you don't have to. Also, leoger above mentioned that these sentences sound unnatural with would. Do you think it's a regional difference? Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 0:06
  • @quetchalcoatle: have to is very firm, like must. Putting would in front of it is like the sugar coating on the bitter pill: it doesn't mean that you don't have to take the pill. I don't think it's a regional difference- more a personal choice of the speaker. A friend would probably say will because they are not the one imposing the rule: they don't need to be polite. The coach is imposing the rule, and feels that it is necessary to add the sugar coating by using would.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 0:17
  • Your last sentence says that None of these implies any additional politeness on the part of the speaker. So this one's about the second sentence, I'm sure she would... Hm. You said that the second could express probability, willingness, and possibility. But the speaker used "sure", meaning he is certain she (whoever that is) will come. So how does it explain probability? Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 0:26
  • Agreed, the willingness meaning is the most likely: I just wanted to make it clear that exact interpretations of would can be difficult without context. "I am sure" means that you are confident about your opinion. The opinion could express a probablility, for example "I am sure that Germany's chances in the World Cup are good".
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 1:29

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