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I <won't / wouldn't> be able to ...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by IWantToImproveMyEnglish, May 3, 2013.

  1. IWantToImproveMyEnglish Senior Member

    Mandarin
    In this sentence "Usually, I leave the office at 5:30pm, but this evening I won't be able to get way until quite a bit later"

    Is it right to change "won't" to"Wouldn't" in this sentence? because both sounds quite alright to me, but not sure if it's right :/

    Thanks
     
  2. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    No, it has to be won't as far as I can tell. Wouldn't would make it sound conditional, and there aren't any conditions mentioned here. There's no hint that you might have to work late - it is definite that you'll have to work late.
     
  3. IWantToImproveMyEnglish Senior Member

    Mandarin
    oh! so "won't" is kind of absolute value? and "wouldn't" is depending on the situation or condition?
     
  4. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Yes, that's pretty much it:
    I won't be able to get away until late.
    I would work late except that I have a dinner date.
     
  5. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Both are correct but are used in different contexts:

    You on the phone to your friend: "Usually, I leave the office at 5:30pm, but this evening I won't be able to get away until quite a bit later because I have a lot of work to finish."

    You are still working at the same firm and are telling a story about what happened to you some time in the past: "Usually, I leave the office at 5:30pm, but this evening I would not be able to get away until quite a bit later; at 5:25 a man staggered into my office and collapsed!"

    Edit to add lost paragraph line.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2013
  6. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I can't quite figure out the tense on the second one, Paul. Would you call that the historical present or...?
     
  7. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Which tense?
     
  8. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    "...but this evening I would not be able to get away until quite a bit later..."

    That tense right there.
     
  9. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    That's a really good question! I don't know. It's a sort of "future in the past". Is there a 24/7 call-out number for a grammarian?
     
  10. IWantToImproveMyEnglish Senior Member

    Mandarin
    @JustKate & PaulQ, Thanks! :D
     
  11. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Not a grammarian, Paul, but I'll have a stab — and perhaps give IWantToImproveMyEnglish (and maybe even Kate :cool:) something to chew on!

    Would, used non-conditionally, is the past of will.

    It's most often used as a habitual imperfect:
    . - He would visit me every Monday (= He used to visit me every Monday)
    or as the past expressing willingness:
    . - My car wouldn't start today (= My car refused to start today) [without getting into a debate about whether inanimate objects can refuse ;)].

    But it's also used, as you suggested, to form the future in the past.

    First let's imagine it's 5:20 (and that the speaker has precognitive powers!). He might say:
    . - "I will not be able to get away, because at 5:25 a man will stagger into my office and collapse." (normal tense sequence: future - future)

    Now let's recount the situation at 5:20, but as a past story. The predictive aspect is maintained by using the future in the past, with would (the past tense of the future marker will) for both the 'being unable' and the staggering, because they're both future actions relative to 5:20.
    . - "I would not be able to get away, because at 5:25 a man would stagger into my office and collapse."

    The sentence as you wrote it is more complex, because the speaker's reference-time changes at the semi-colon:
    . - "I would not be able to get away until quite a bit later": future in the past (refers to a state before 5:25, predicting a future state after 5:25)
    . - "at 5:25 a man staggered into my office and collapsed!": simple past (at 5:25).

    I'd say you need at least a full stop, or preferably suspension points, to show that time shift.

    Actually I think I'd keep it simple (all in the same reference-time):
    . - either with the future in the past for both verbs, as above;
    ........ "I would not be able to get away, because at 5:25 a man would stagger into my office and collapse."
    . - or with both verbs in the past:
    ........ "I was not able to get away because at 5:25 a man staggered into my office and collapsed."

    No doubt a grammarian would have given a more concise answer. Better look for that 24/7 number!:p

    Ws:)
     
  12. VikNikSor

    VikNikSor Senior Member

    Russian
    Why don't we just put a verb in the Past in the sentence in order to legalize "would"?
    Usually, I leave the office at 5:30pm, but this evening I knew I wouldn't be able to get way until quite a bit later
    or if he/she has "precognitive powers":
    Usually, I leave the office at 5:30pm, but this evening I knew I wouldn't be able to get away until quite a bit later because at 5:25 a man would stagger into my office and collapse!"
    :)
     
  13. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    I have found an answer it is the "historic future":
    http://www.french-linguistics.co.uk/grammar/translation_would.shtml
     
  14. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I'd be cautious about that "historic future" term. Paul. .

    I'd never heard it before, so I tried googling it. In a grammar context, it seems that it appears only on that one 'french-linguistics' site (and its associated blogspot page). The author seems to have invented the name, because he puts 'historic future' in quotes, whereas in the same article he refers to the future-in-the-past without quotemarks.

    He limits his use of the term future-in-the-past to reported speech ("he said he would come before eight"), and uses 'historic future' for other cases ("the king would die in 1457" ). That's the first time I've seen that distinction, and it appears that he's making it only for the purposes of explaining how to translate into French, which uses a different tense/mood in each of the two cases: the conditional in the first case, the future in the second.

    In English, however, the same construction is used whether it's reported speech or not, and in every source I've seen it's called the future-in-the-past (with or without hyphens) or occasionally the future of the past. Try googling << verb "future in the past" >>.

    Ws:)
     
  15. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    I am please to be called back to the post and even more so that a believable name has been found.

    As I reflect, the historic future would be, "William of Normandy launched his army who will be in Hastings in 2 day's time." but would not "William of Normandy launched his army who would be in Hastings in 2 day's time." be the imperfect future in the past?
     
  16. Wordsmyth

    Wordsmyth Senior Member

    Location: Mostly SW France
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I can see a sort of logic in that, Paul, in that "who would be in Hastings" could be replaced by "who were going to be in Hastings". I can't say I've ever heard of the imperfect future in the past, but grammarians invent new names all the time, so why not? ;)

    As for "William of Normandy launched his army who will be in Hastings ...", the only way I can see that being used at all is if it's said after the launch but before the arrival in Hastings, and even then it would be more normal to use the present perfect: "William of Normandy has launched his army, who will be in Hastings ...". Whatever, "will be" is simply the future tense.

    Ws
    :)
     

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