What's the difference in meaning between these two sentence

  1. "I would have thought Tom was the best expert in this stackoverflow.com"

  2. I would think Tom is the best expert in this stackoverflow.com."

I've been told that I would think/expect/say/imagine/ etc are used for:

  • tentativeness or creating distance from what we say
  • For politeness or to be indirect
  • Giving opinion with softness . . . .

Or mixture of them.

Now, I'm still confused in the use of I would have+p.p which is said to be used for "disagreeing with someone or giving opinion." I would think that giving opinion is itself contradicting or disagreeing with someone. So, I still could say that "I would think" and "I would have thought" give the same meanings.

I have been told that "I would have thought" refers to both past and present. That's why, I'm puzzled between its meanings whether to use it for contradicting or for giving opinion?

On the other hand, this phrase also seems like conditional ( If he had told me ,I would have thought about it ) but the if clause left out. But it doesn't give such meanings either. So it's useless to say that this phrase is conditional. what would Am i right? As I said before,I have been told that it's used for both "disagreeing with someone and giving the opinion". It suggests that this phrase is an idiom (as it doesn't give its literal meaning) and works both for contradicting and giving an opinion.

Is "I would have thought"** is the same as **"I had thought before" ?

Does it mean that "i would have thought" is used for both giving openion and disagreeing with someone politely or without being direct ?

As I've learned that "I would think" is used for giving openion ,politeness , showing uncertainty,softening etc "I would have thought" should also share the same characteristics as It's only past version of "I would think".

Example: A: She died of a broken heart. B: Really? I would have thought that she died from an overdose of drugs.

'B' could also use "I would think" to show his opinion but why did he use "I would have thought' ?

He could also use "I thought" to show his opinion but He didn't use it why?

I think that 'B' made that statement ( Really! I would have thought she died from an overdose of drugs ) for clearification of the A 's statement.Is it just like the following example?

A.Do you know , Mt Everest is located in India. B.Really! I would have thought it's in Nepal.


A.Buddha was born in china. B. But I would have thought he was born in Nepal.

further querries :

Is the phrase "I would have thought" means "I think" with more polite deference, more indirect and with more than necessary words ( "I think" is enough to convey the same meaning but "i would have thought" includes unnecessary words: 'would have') As you said this phrase is used for both purpose in past and present time reference ,depending on the condition: 1.for diagreeing with someone politely 2.for expressing an earlier opinion politely( the opinion which was in the past and but no longer exist)

(Note:I had asked a similar question but It wasn't about the difference between this two phrase )

4 Answers 4


Tom is the best expert ...

Assertion of a fact. Where there are agreed criteria then there's no need to hedge an statement.

Djokavic is the current number one male tennis player in the world

When criteria are less certain, or we ourselves are not sure of our facts, or we wish to be modest by appearing to be uncertain of our facts we may use I think

I think Djokavic is the best male tennis played of all time

I think that the population of the UK is 50 million (actually 65 million)

This formulation implies that we are open to correction and discussion

Adding would softens this further, emphasises that we are uncertain

I would think that the population of the UK is greater than 50 million

The I would have thought formulation is normally used in a context where some information has recently been given. Depending upon the context it may imply that we are actually contradicting the information, or that we are expressing surprised acceptance.

I think Tendulakar is the best batsman of all time

I would have thought Bradman had a better record

that was disagreeing, suggesting that by some criteria Bradman is better

The current UK population is 65 million

Oh, I would have thought it was only 50 million

but now I've changed my opinion (this implied but not said)

that was agreeing, I thought it was 50 million, but I accept your statement of 60 million is correct. We could just say

Oh, I thought it was only 50 million

With pretty much the same meaning, the slight difference being that the second case implies it was actively in my mind, whereas the would form could imply that I hadn't really formed a solid opinion until now, but I would probably have guessed 50 million.

As your comment indicates we are indeed into shades of meaning and idioms. In these cases the tone of voice will often differentiate the meaning.

I would have thought Bradman had a better record

Would probably said with a questioning or challenging tone and raised eyebrow.

  • ,Which examples is for agreeing and which example is for disagreeing ?
    – yubraj
    Jun 22, 2016 at 14:38
  • @djnaI,"I would thought" is used for both agreeing and disagreeing ? Is it an idiom ? in your last example, "I would have thoght" is the same as "I thought", but why to use "would" instead simply saying "I thought" ? please edit your answer to include. all these concerns
    – yubraj
    Jun 22, 2016 at 15:08
  • Now It has been clear that the phrase "I would have thought" means "I think" with more polite deference, more indirect and with more than necessary words ( "I think" is enough to convey the same meaning but "i would have thought" includes unnecessary words: 'would have') As you said this phrase is used for both purpose in past and present time reference ,depending on the condition: 1.for diagreeing with someone politely 2.for expressing an earlier opinion politely( the opinion which was in the past and but no longer exist) I think I got it what you mean.didn't I?
    – yubraj
    Jun 24, 2016 at 4:44
  • Before accepting the answer *what about the examples that I have given about Nepal , how would you interpret that?should I re-aggange my examples to convey the sense of contradiction? *Could you think any of the examples that convey both the meaning (the 2 meanings that I've listened above) of "I would have thought"?
    – yubraj
    Jun 24, 2016 at 4:45
  • could you please include these concerns in you answer
    – yubraj
    Jun 24, 2016 at 4:47

I can't think of any context where I would think [some idea that seems to me likely to be true] isn't equivalent to and interchangeable with I would have thought... (ditto for the contracted I'd versions).

The only slight difference is that because the Perfect form (have thought) is "literally" referencing something "further away" from the speaker's "current, present" reality than Simple Present (think), this effectively "distances" the speaker more from his words. This makes the Perfect form more hesitant / deferential.

Here's what I think is an interesting pair of charts to bolster my point. First, the relatively more informal usage featuring contracted I'd, You'd...

enter image description here

...where the two Simple (non-Perfect) forms are equally dominant. Compare that to the non-contracted (and hence, on average more formal) versions...

enter image description here

...where the Perfect form I would have thought you [might consider my humble suggestion] turns out to be the most common. I find it particularly interesting that the "reverse" of that - You would have thought that I [might be more predictable / sensible] is the least common of the four non-contracted permutations. That I think is simply because telling someone what they might have thought is inherently not very respectful / deferential (it's the kind of thing friends/equals say between themselves, not something you say to your boss).

TL;DR: Hypothetical would in I would think so implies more hesitancy and/or deference than plain I think. Using the Perfect I would have thought so simply distances the speaker a little further from his words (making it a bit more hesitant / deferential).

  • If so the main meaning of “I would think” and “ I would have thought “ are the same as “in my opinion “ and “I think”. I have another example. I want to give an opinion on someone age. (I would think)/(I would have thought) her father is about 50 years old. Both are correct. Right?
    – LE HANH
    Nov 23, 2022 at 15:44
  • It's all there in my answer. To a first approximation, I think = I would think = I would have thought (they all mean the same thing). If and when you get a lot better at using and understanding English, you might want to explore the subtle differences (as explained above), but for the time being you should just assume they're equivalent, So to make life easier for yourself, just stick to I think for your own speech / writing, and assume that meaning whenever you encounter the more complex verb forms from other people. Nov 23, 2022 at 20:26
  • ...in a few contexts, I would have thought means I thought (but I see now that I was mistaken, so I think something different). But it's usually really obvious if that's the only interpretation that makes sense. Nov 23, 2022 at 20:31
  • How about my examples? Is it appropriate to use these terms “ I would think” and “I would have thought” in my examples?
    – LE HANH
    Nov 24, 2022 at 0:36
  • 1
    Define "appropriate". It's never necessary to use such circumlocutions, and to be honest I don't think a native speaker would ever notice if you never used them. But there's every chance that if you do use them, at some point you'll do so "inappropriately", and that will be noticed. So my advice is you should stick to the simplest "acceptable" verb form in every context, unless and until you become so fluent you replicate more complex native speaker choices without giving it conscious thought. Nov 24, 2022 at 11:51

As a native English speaker, I interpret the difference being related to tenses and not necessarily to indicate agreement/disagreement.

  • When using the phrase, "I would have thought" it is typically when reflecting on or considering an action that has already happened - perhaps by somebody else.

  • When using the phrase "I would think", it is typically referring to a hypothetical decision/conclusion which might be made in the future situation - perhaps by yourself.

Examples of each:

"I would have thought that with the information available, a different decision would have been made (in the past)."

"I would have thought the same as you if under the same circumstances."

"I would think that when I have the information (in the future), it will lead to this decision."

"I would think that you or I will have the strength to defend our position if under attack."


Both the sentences you quote at the start of your question are essentially saying, in my opinion,something is such and such. They could read: 1)In my opinion Tom is the best expert in this stackoverflow.com; 2) In my opinion Tom [is] the best expert in this stackoverflow.com. 'I would have thought' and 'I would think' are polite forms of 'in my opinion' and both can be used according to the circumstances. However, instead of saying "I would have thought Tom the best expert in this stackoverflow.com",say instead, "I would have thought Tom was the expert in stackoverflow.com"; and instead of "I would think Tom the best expert in this stackoverflow.com.", say, " I think Tom is the expert of stackoverflow.com.

  • I do not pretend to be the Tom quoted in my answer.I just happen to be another Tom. ;-)
    – tom
    Jun 22, 2016 at 5:35
  • you're right. Actually It is only a name that I've used in my examples.There could be another names instead of Tom.
    – yubraj
    Jun 22, 2016 at 9:07

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