Are Would and Will Converging?

I was recently writing a copy-editing test and it caused me to contemplate the difference between would and will. Grammatical would is the subjunctive and will is the active voice. They would eat the pizza is the subjunctive future. Tells the reader that the subject “They” is going to eat pizza in the future unless something happens. They will eat pizza is the active future. The subject “They” is going to eat pizza. There is no uncertainty here.

Yet this is a very fine shading of meaning. It has been argued that while grammatically the line may be clear that in common usage there is no longer a difference between will and would. While the editor in me cries about what this says about people’s understanding of the language I think this is correct.

So once something becomes common practice is it still wrong? Some people say a resounding yes and others say no. It is true that a lot as one word is common usage but is still routinely marked as incorrect. Yet this is a simple spelling mistake and not really the same as the underlying shift in speech patterns that the amalgamation of would and will implies. Using would and will interchangeably suggests that the subjunctive is disappearing from our vernacular. It is true that to use the past subjunctive I have to look it up because it is something I never use expect when translating Latin. It has died out in English.

Perhaps this coming together of would and will is the subjunctive’s last gasp in our language. That would be a sad thing as we need a way to think about possibilities. It is dangerous to see the world only in sureties especially the future. I suppose the word “could” might replace would in the future but they don’t really mean the same thing.

What do you think? Is our language evolving to think of things as sureties instead of possibilities?


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