"He is still watching, however" - she sighed - "and his gaze is stronger. Not on us, but on the world. How much longer before he is strong enough to..."
Nynaeve hunched her shoulders; suddenly she could almost feel someone staring at her back. It was one explanation she would just as soon the Aes Sedai had not given her.
Lan scouted their path down the river, but where before he had chosen the way, now Moiraine did so, as surely as if she followed some unseen track, footprints in air, the scent of memory. Lan only checked the route she intended, to see that it was safe.

The Wheel of Time: Book One - The Eye of The World (Chapter 28 - Footprints in Air)

The phrase in bolds is what I am having a trouble understanding. Why does it feel like there is some part of the phrase missing? I'm thinking that the author intends to mean the following:

It was one explanation she would have arrived at had the Aes Sedai not done so.

1 Answer 1


Would here does not express futurity; it reflects the original, now mostly obsolete, meaning of will to mean "wish" or "desire"—Do what you will. One use of this volitive will is as a main verb (not an auxiliary) in expressions like

  • I would rather you didn't go by yourself.
  • I would sooner you took me with you.
  • I would just as soon we went together.

All of these have the general sense of 'prefer'. The 'past' form is used to mark these as implicitly conditional: "I don't have a choice, but if I did have a choice I would rather you didn't go by yourself." In the passage you cite, where the expression is used in a past-tense narrative, it also marks the past tense. Ordinarily modals in this "double past" situation are cast in the perfect, would have; but this is never done with these expressions, whose form is fixed. The pastness is sufficiently marked by the past perfect in the complement clause, the Aes Sedai had not given her.

In this case, the Aes Sedai (Moiraine) has given Nynaeve an explanation that Nynaeve now wishes she didn't know because it makes her more afraid. You could phrase it like this:

It was one explanation she wished the Aes Sedai had not given her.

  • +1 Even closer perhaps is would rather, which in the part of the country I come from was often expressed would sooner. Sep 27, 2013 at 1:02
  • @StoneyB I'd welcome an edit (or perhaps a self-answered question?) explaining the use of "would" as a main verb instead of an auxiliary. It's infrequent enough that it tends to surprise even native speakers. Sep 27, 2013 at 3:29
  • 1
    As you wish - or will :) Sep 27, 2013 at 9:28

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