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Translating the English 'Would'

Verb Can Be Equivalent of Several Spanish Verb Forms


The auxiliary English verb "would" has several different ways it can be translated to Spanish. As with other problems of translation, the key to proper interpretation is understanding what is meant, not the words that are used.

The conditional tense: When "would" is used to indicate supposition, the possibility of something happening contingent on something else, or the likelihood of something, it typically is the equivalent of the Spanish conditional tense.

    Examples: Te gustaría salir? (Would you like to leave?) No compraría este libro. (I would not buy this book.) El asesinato del presidente sería un crimen de guerra. (Assassinating the president would be a war crime.)
The imperfect tense: When "would" is used to refer to something that happened repeatedly in the past, it is typically the equivalent of the Spanish imperfect tense.
    Examples: Le exasperaban las quejas de sus hijos. (His children's complaints would exasperate him.) Durante el día trabajaba mucho. (During the day she would work a lot.)
"Would" in the negative: Sometimes the negative form, "wouldn't" or "would not," suggests a refusal to do something. The verb negarse can be used in such cases.
    Se negó a estudiar otras alternativas. (He wouldn't study other alternatives.) Por eso me negué a firmar. (Because of that I wouldn't sign.)
If "would not" or "wouldn't" is used as the equivalent of "did not" or "didn't," it can be translated using either the imperfect or preterite tense, depending on what is meant.
    La radio del coche no me funcionó en ese momento. (The car radio wouldn't work for me at that moment.) Muchas veces la radio del coche no me funcionaba. (The car radio often wouldn't work for me.)
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