What does this "would" mean?



I heard this on a radio show.

Who said this verbatim?
Well... Obama?
That would be correct!

Why do you need to weaken your assertiveness by using "would be" instead of "that is correct?"


Posted 2014-03-02T15:47:37.567



I've found 2 posts in a language blog touching upon the meaning of the phrase "that would be me" in spoken English. Haven't read it through yet but it seems to be related to this topic. The links are: Part 1 and Part 2.

– CowperKettle – 2014-03-02T17:36:37.650



Hard to say without more context.

Apologies that this post will reveal more political opinions than are necessary, but it's difficult to explain the full context without that. I am imagining from the context that you are listening to right-wing talk radio. In America, right-wing talk radio is characterized by quite a bit of use of heavy-handed sarcasm.

Then the dialogue is probably something like this:

Speaker: [reads a quote which he feels is very obviously something erroneous or misguided, expecting the listener to agree] Who said this VERBATIM? [the verbatim emphasizing that the speaker is giving the exact quotation, as though the quotation were so shocking that it might sound like an exaggeration]

(I don't know if this is the speaker answering himself, or a second party answering) Well... Obama?

Speaker: That would be right!

It is a sort of sarcasm. To the speaker, it is so OBVIOUS that Obama would say something so ludicrous that his posed question is trivial. So he sarcastically answers with the hedging conditional tense "that would be right" rather than the "that's right." But it means the exact opposite of a hedge.


Posted 2014-03-02T15:47:37.567

Reputation: 5 916

1You're right- without context this is difficult to answer, but when I read it I imagined a radio game show in which the host is asking a contestant this question. The host then might use would to extend and heighten the suspense in revealing whether the contestant answered correctly or not. – Jim – 2014-03-02T17:36:19.397

Good point. I assumed this was political because the word "verbatim" struck me as someone who was angry at Obama. But game show hosts do this all the time for exactly that reason. – hunter – 2014-03-02T17:46:28.580

2I agree "That would be right" is highly likely to be used with (often, very subtle) undertones of sarcasm. OP is quite correct that usually, "would" implies a weakening of assertiveness. Where the context makes that unlikely, it's probably just the standard "meaning reversal" feature kicking in. That's because all deviations from standard verb forms tend to be used with some significance, and two "opposite" meanings are often easy to adopt because context usually makes it easy to see which applies. It extends the available possibilities of language use with minimal effort. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-03-03T05:34:33.663

@Jim: Using "would" as a "suspense-heightening" device sounds a bit unlikely to me. Apart from anything else, I think it would sound decidedly mean-spirited to say *"That would be wrong!"*. So if our hypothetical game show host were in the habit of saying it, everyone would know what was coming next as soon as they heard "That [would...]". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-03-03T05:39:59.347

I wonder if the speaker can say "That could be right!" or "That might be right!" instead without a lessening of sarcasm. Is would the best choice of modal-verbs here to add a sarcastic overtone to his speech? @FumbleFingers – Kinzle B – 2014-03-28T13:32:32.667

@Zhanlong: By and large, sarcasm is extremely complex, delicate, and highly context-dependent. You may or may not have noticed that even native speakers often get it wrong in contexts such as online comments (where the writer often doesn't know his audience very well, there are few "non-verbal cues" such as intonation, and no significant "instant reaction" to establish how things are being received). Most non-native speakers could significantly improve their apparent fluency by simply avoiding sarcasm completely, since they often overuse it in noticeably "unnatural" ways. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2014-03-28T13:49:24.293