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My question is about the use of would in the following sentence.

He grew up around cars that would later become classics.

The use of would in this particular sense always looks confusing to me because it's so different from:

I would like to know...
I don't think he would agree to that...
Would you mind....
Would it be alright if I...
etc.

The above sentence, as I see it, means "he grew up around cars which were going to become classics in the future". Is that correct? If yes, does it also mean that the cars actually became classics later?

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    Could just as easily be He grew up around cars that later became classics. He didn't know it at the time. It's a style preference.
    – user21497
    Jan 2, 2013 at 15:37
  • or even ...cars later to become classics Jan 2, 2013 at 16:04

3 Answers 3

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Yes and yes—this is an example of what is called the sequence of tenses, which relates the tense of a subordinate clause to that of the head clause. It's the same reason why one would usually write he grew up with cars that were painted blue instead of he grew up with cars that are painted blue. In particular, the use of would here is a relic of its origin as the praeterite of will; similarly, one would use in such a case should for shall, could for can, and might for may.

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    +1 Although, the OP might have just meant to ask the lexical meaning of would, if it indeed meant 'were going to'.
    – Kris
    Jan 3, 2013 at 9:05
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The above sentence, as I see it, means he grew up around cars which were going to become classics in the future. Is that correct?

Yes.

If yes, does it also mean that the cars actually became classics later?

Yes; would here is concrete and definite.

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    There is a subtle complication. He grew up among people who would later become famous implies that the people he lived with would actually become famous. He grew up around cars that would later become classics means that the models he was familiar with were to become classics. Jan 3, 2013 at 13:08
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See the Thesaurus entry from the Macmillan Dictionary:

would modal verb
1 b used for talking about something that was going to happen after a particular point in the past

e.g. Here she met the man who would one day become her husband.

The latter page also lists a number of meanings and usage variants of would. It records towards the end, almost as a second thought, that would is ", incidentally, " used as the past tense of will!

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  • Thanks for mentioning Macmillan Dictionary & Thesaurus. It's another useful reference resource I came to know about.
    – user32480
    Jan 3, 2013 at 12:04

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