Values of "would"


Here's the context (found it in a book): "The 7/7 bombings, as they came to be known, marked, symbolically at least, an abrupt end to the optimism of much of the Blair era. For slightly less than a decade, Britain had enjoyed a period of uninterrupted economic growth. That economic success had formed the bedrock of Tony Blair's election victories in 2001 and 2005. As Chancellor since 1997, Gordon Brown would (1) boast of having ended Britain's economic cylce of 'boom and bust'. But as Blair reluctantly handed over the premiership, the hubris of those boasts would (2) become clear. Britain would (3) face a series of crises over the next five years -- economic and political -- that would (4) result in the 2010 election being fought against a very different backdrop."


I do not think that I understand how the modal "would" is used here. In (1), I cannot decide between "repetition in the past" and "typical behaviour". Can (2) be a case of "reported future"? What about (3) and (4)? I would go for "events that you are not certain about", but I am rather confused. Is any of those four occurrences a case of conditional? Anyone?

1 answer


Benead, this is a great question!  For #1, first of all, I don't think there is any difference between 'repetition in the past' and 'typical behavior' if the latter refers specifically to typical past behavior; at least as far as the grammatical use of would goes, they refer to the same (past) phenomenon, I think. Rather, I think the semantic issue with respect to #1 is whether Brown's boasting pre-dated the July 2005 terrorist attack or not, and whether or not his boasts also persisted beyond it; if Brown's boasts only pre-dated July 2005 then the meaning is clearly 'repetition in the past/typical past behavior'; if they began after this date, then it is future-in-the-past; if they started before AND continued beyond that timeframe (which I suspect is likely the case) then this use of would is a fascinating blend of typical past behavior and future-in-the-past.  As for #2, 3, and 4, given the historical chronology, they are all clearly references to events subsequent to July 2005, so the meaning of would here is future-in-the-past.  None of the 4 sentences have a conditional meaning.  I hope this helps.  

link comment edited May 14 '13 at 12:04 Shawn Mooney Expert

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