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Hi, Alka,

@Alka posted:

Can anyone explain the grammar behind this sentence: He would have been a little boy then. It's not hypothetical. He was actually a little boy then. This use of "would have" refers to situations when people reminisce about the past.

More context is needed. My impression is that 'would have' here is used as the past tense of 'will have'.

Hello, Alka, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

@Alka posted:

Can anyone explain the grammar behind this sentence: He would have been a little boy then. It's not hypothetical. He was actually a little boy then. This use of "would have" refers to situations when people reminisce about the past.

@Alka posted:

Another situation in a museum. The tour guide says pointing at some paintings of aristocratic men: "They would have been in her majesty's service".

Why do you discard the hypothetical reading? Please do not confuse "hypothetical" with "counterfactual." My impression is that the two sentences above refer to an assumption about the past. "Would have been" sounds more tentative than "was" or "were," as if the speaker were saying "considering the year when this happened, he was a boy," or "considering their appearance, they were in her majesty's service." I find this use similar to past modal "must have been," though perhaps a little stronger in terms of probability.

Thank you:-) I will be fully convinced if you feel that the same would apply to this context:  Her mother was sorry that she didn’t remember my grandfather herself, though she wasn’t surprised, because she would have been a little girl then. She was two years older than my father, who had died on his 80th birthday. It occurred to me that I was talking to someone who might have seen him when he lived here. Suddenly this felt very real.

@Alka posted:

Her mother was sorry that she didn’t remember my grandfather herself, though she wasn’t surprised, because she would have been a little girl then. She was two years older than my father, who had died on his 80th birthday. It occurred to me that I was talking to someone who might have seen him when he lived here. Suddenly this felt very real.

Yes, I feel it's the same case. I'll see if I can find some grammatical explanation for this particular use of "would have."

@Alka posted:

Hmmm. Not quite. Another situation in a museum. The tour guide says pointing at some paintings of aristocratic men: "They would have been in her majesty's service".

Another usage of 'would have + PP' is to express 'expectation', 'prediction' or 'presumption' in the past. This meaning applies here and I think it also applies to your last quotation.

Last edited by ahmed_btm
@Alka posted:

Can anyone explain the grammar behind this sentence: He would have been a little boy then. It's not hypothetical. He was actually a little boy then. This use of "would have" refers to situations when people reminisce about the past.

@Alka posted:

The tour guide says pointing at some paintings of aristocratic men: "They would have been in her majesty's service".

@Alka posted:

Her mother was sorry that she didn’t remember my grandfather herself, though she wasn’t surprised, because she would have been a little girl then.

Hello, Alka, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

I agree with Ahmed that "would" is the past of "will" in this type of usage and relates to expectation/prediction/presumption, and with Gustavo that "would" is more tentative than "was" or "were"; indeed, it is more tentative than "will."

If someone was using my cell phone, and informed me, "Your phone just dinged" at a time when I often get texted by someone (John), I could say, "That must be John texting me." Or I could say, "That will be John texting me."

The meaning there relates to a conditional involving investigation and confirmation: "If you investigate the ding that you just heard, you will find that it was John texting me."

If I wished to phrase the sentence in a more tentative fashion, I could say, "That would have been John texting me," meaning: "If you investigated the ding that you just heard, you would find that it was John texting me."

Let's suppose the person was speaking about what happened when he used my phone a week ago at a time when I usually receive a text from John. The person says, "Your phone dinged" (at that time). I could respond the same way:

  • That would have been John texting me.
    (If you had investigated the ding, you would have found that it was John texting me.)

The "will"-variant is not impossible even in that context, provided the texting data can realistically still be investigated. "That will have been John texting me" would then mean "If you investigate it, you will find that it was John texting me."

Last edited by David, Moderator

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