I was watching Bird Box and there was a sentence I didn't quite understand which was this:

They took us outside and they forced our eyes open so that we would have to look at the creatures.

He was only explaining what was happening to him, but why would he use "would have to"? It's not like "would" means "used to" here.

Can somebody please explain it to me? I just can't seem to find an answer to it.

  • If you want a useful answer you will have to give us more context. What is birdbox? What was the he doing and what did he say before the fragment sentence that you are asking about?
    – Shoe
    Feb 18, 2019 at 8:55
  • I did add more!
    – Amy Pop
    Feb 20, 2019 at 0:56

1 Answer 1


Why use "would have to" in the past tense?

Here I'm not sure "would" is being used to create a conditional mood. I mean, technically it might, but it's not so clear to me. A conditional mood created by "would" or "would have to" would be something like:

  • If you went to the party, I would have to go.
  • I knew that I would have to be in great physical shape if I wanted to win the race.
    (Here we have "would have to" referring to the past)
    See these Google Books results for:

  • "I knew that I would have to"

... if you're interested in this conditional structure referring to the past.

As I said, I'm not sure that in your example the "would have to" is creating a conditional mood.

Let's just say you confiscate someone's mobile/cell phone in order to force them to use the landline phone. I don't know any simpler way to say this using "so that" than to say:

  • I confiscated his phone so that he would have to use the landline.

I don't see any conditional here, unless you read the ellipsis of ("if he wanted to make a call") at the end of the sentence. To me it just sounds like another way of saying:

  • I confiscated his phone so that he would be forced to use the landline.
    (a longer way of saying it).

So why do we use "would" here? Well, I'm not sure.

  • I confiscated his phone so that he has to use the landline. (sounds strange to me).

Here are some more examples from Google Books for so that I would:

  • I wrote my name on the book so that I would not lose it.
  • So clearly, his intent was to hit me hard so that I would drop the ball.
  • I packed my case so that I would be ready to go at the last minute and I called my best friend Ellie...

and "so that he would have to"

  • Then she shut the door, leaning against it so that he would have to push her out of the way to get back outside.

I'm not sure if these examples are conditionals. Also, I don't think I see these uses of "would" defined in the dictionaries either, unless we read these as "so that he/she might".

  • I was wondering if I also could use would like this "I was eating a hamburger but then thid guy came to me and would steal my hambuger" or " i told her to stop but she would still do it"
    – Amy Pop
    Feb 18, 2019 at 14:14
  • @AmyPop Maybe this answer was of use to you, but I don't believe I actually explained grammatically why "would" is used in this case. "Would" is quite complicated because it's used in many ways. Your first example is not acceptable. "Would" can be used before verbs to say that it happened regularly in the past. "8. Used to express repeated or habitual action in the past: Every morning we would walk in the garden." "I was eating" and "but then this guy came to me" and then it sounds like he stole your hamburger doesn't sound like a repeated action, and "would" is not right. On the other hand...
    – Zebrafish
    Feb 19, 2019 at 0:27
  • @AmyPop ... in your second example, if we assume that you told someone to stop, and they still continued to do it, then "would" can be used because you're saying that they continued to do it in the past. You told them to stop, and they continued to do it, an acceptable use of "would". I know it's tricky. You may want to wait to see what someone with more knowledge has to say about what "would have to" is doing in "so that we would have to look at the creatures". Also if you want a better explanation you should add more context to the part you have in your question.
    – Zebrafish
    Feb 19, 2019 at 0:27
  • I added more context to it! But i think you clearly explained why it was used "would have to" in that sentence .
    – Amy Pop
    Feb 19, 2019 at 1:12
  • @AmyPop You're more likely to get a good response now, I think. By the way, it's interesting, as the first time I saw your question I pictured this: kpwebster.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/clockwork-orange-eyes.jpg and this static3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20080430073922/simpsons/images/2/…
    – Zebrafish
    Feb 19, 2019 at 1:18

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