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I've got a sentence that I can't quite well understand. My problem in the sentence is the "were to play" part.

How does it change the meaning of the sentence? Does it mean that this was an action in the past that had not taken place?

The sentence is:

These Jägers were to play a significant role in subsequent events.

Another one:

This was the beginning of a civil war between the Whites and the Reds that was to last for nearly four months.

Could someone help me to understand the idea of "am/are/is to" + verb | "was/were to" + verb | (etc..)? Any help would be appreciated!

UPDATE: I've found an article on using "is to" + verb and "are to" + verb. Is the explanation right in this article about the usage of this form?

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Your article isn’t too bad, but I am not sure it is all that cut and dry. Also, they missed the mandative “You shall report to work at 10 o’clock” version, which is pretty much the same as saying “You must. . . .” in this instance. – tchrist Apr 2 '13 at 21:04
up vote 1 down vote accepted

It means just the same as though it had had a going inserted:

These Jägers were going to play a significant role in subsequent events.

This was the beginning of a civil war between the Whites and the Reds that was going to last for nearly four months.

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Does this mean that these actions did not take place in the past, or they were just about to happen but there was something that made them not to happen? The book I'm reading is a history book and its style is quite formal. – Roland Burda Apr 2 '13 at 20:47
Sure, they were in the past. It is like using would as a future-in-the-past thing when you have past tense verbs, or using will in the present. “I am to see the doctor tomorrow”, “I am going to see the doctor tomorrow”, and “I will see the doctor tomorrow” are all pretty much the same thing, but possibly with super-subtle nuance or register shift in some speakers, which not all speakers would agree with. – tchrist Apr 2 '13 at 20:59
I'm still not sure about it so pardon me but I want to ask one more question. In the case of this sentence (the same goes to the other one): "This was the beginning of a civil war between the Whites and the Reds that was going to last for nearly four months.", this means that the the "beginning" (back then) civil war "was (going) to last" (lasted) for four months (in fact, it did happen and lasted for nearly four months)? Thank you for your kind help! – Roland Burda Apr 2 '13 at 22:11
@RolandBurda No, I don’t think whether we know whether it really did so, no matter whether it was to last, was going to last, or would last six months. Perhaps the middle one is less certain than the outer ones, however; maybe the outer pair are used to say it was going to do so and did, in sort of an historic past. – tchrist Apr 2 '13 at 22:12

protected by Rathony Jul 16 at 7:12

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