I encounter a sentence as follows:

The results were much like those of James Bernoulli’s Art of Conjecture (1713), developed analytically by Laplace in the late 18th century; but P´olya thought the resemblance to be only qualitative.

I wonder if the to be in black can be replaced by "would be" or as @V.V. noted by "was"? Since I have never studied such a grammar rule(to be = was/is = would/will be), could anyone please help explain a bit?


He thought the resemblance to be only qualitative.

The structure object +infinitive +complement is formal

You can change the sentence like this with the same meaning(colloquial)

He thought that the resemblance was only qualitative.(stating the fact).

You can use modal verbs instead of was

He thought that the resemblance would be(could be, might be) only qualitative. (speaking of a possibility).

You can't use will, because thought is in the past tense.

  • Thanks very much for your examples. But. Why? Sep 25 '16 at 13:10
  • Why what? @lerneradams
    – V.V.
    Sep 25 '16 at 13:14
  • I mean,,, any evidence or explanation? Sep 25 '16 at 13:35
  • 1
    +1. @lerner adams: thought = opined. If the opinion is about something which exists, and the opinion concerns the thing's current state, we would not use a future tense, because the future tense would be an opinion about what the thing might become or turn out to be, not about its current state. Sep 25 '16 at 14:26
  • An example where you could use "thought" with "will be": "Pólya predicted the end of humanity will occur in 2020. He thought that we will be defeated by cockroaches". You still might say "would be", but "will be" is acceptable. Pólya had a thought in the past (and no longer thinks it, because he is dead). His thought was about something that will only happen in the future. But the sentence in the question is not of this kind, since the resemblance Pólya was thinking about already existed at the time he thought about it. So "will be" is wrong. Sep 25 '16 at 18:41

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