Never Mind Miss Fox

“Well I never,” she had murmured, smiling. She had let her hands rest on his shoulders and leaned her hips against his until he would have done anything— anything — to keep her there.

Could you help me discern the meaning of the bold-written text?

I know that this model verb with have when it forms a sentence with if, It conveys the meaning of what something would be if it was otherwise done.

But here, in this context, is sort of different.


3 Answers 3


Until wants a complement that resolves either to a point-in-time or to a state which obtains.

He is out until 3PM.

He won't be able to see you until then.

You can complain until you are blue in the face.

She held her breath until she was ready to pass out.

Don't move until the light turns green.

The phrase he would have done anything can be understood as he was ready to do anything or he was willing to do anything or he was ready and willing to do anything, that is, a state of mind (and body).

Her actions brought him to that state.

The perfect have done with modal would looks at that ready state from a point-in-time later than it.

  • How would the meaning change if it was “it would do anything...” rather than “it would have done...”? Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 23:15
  • I think you meant to ask about "he would do anything" not "it would do anything". Since the statement is in the past tense ("she had let ... she leaned ...") a switch to he would do would not refer to a single incident but would be understood to refer to a regular occurrence or regular event in the past. We drove down to the beach where we would spend several weeks each summer.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 9:00
  • Thank you, I didn’t notice that you had already answered my question. Now, I can understand this case. It was a little bit ambiguous. So, your point implies that we can see that “would have spend” is a state of intention or willingness. Could we call this condition as a perfect future tense but in the “past form”? @Tᴚoɯɐuo Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 19:57
  • 1
    we would spend in the example in my comment directly above is not willingness but rather event-occurring-regularly-in-past. Every summer we would spend a few weeks at the beach. In the quote in your question, he would have done anything is a state of willingness in the past. If called upon to do something, he would have done anything. spend is bare infinitive. If you want to form the perfect it is have spent.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 20:42

X until Y means to do X until Y happens, or that X is true until Y happens or occurs.

With past tenses, it means X was done, but stopped when Y happened.

I walked in the park until the sidewalk ran out.

But this:

I walked in the park until the sidewalk would have run out.

is strange - we have a actual past action (walked) limited by a modal-tagged action (would run out) - and that modal makes it unknown whether the second action actually happened or not.

Normally actual actions, when limited with until, can only be limited by things that actually happened. On a strict grammar level it's probably incorrect.

The only way this really works is if the writer/speaker is expecting you to be immersed enough that you can imagine you are the subject of the sentence. Things like this are possible in literary/artistic contexts. Artists/writers will bend the rules and know how/when to get away with it.

She had let her hands rest on his shoulders andleaned her hips against his until he would have done anything— anything — to keep her there.

What's communicated here efficiently with this "error" is that she wants him to keep her there and the would was employed to create excitement. There's a shift from an objective point of view to her point of view in "mid-stream." We know what she wants and we are efficiently kept in suspense whether it has actually happened or not yet.

Over-explaining kills excitement:

She had let her hands rest on his shoulders and leaned her hips against his; what she wanted was for him to do anything to keep her there and she was hoping he would catch her. (sounds like we're writing a romance manual)

As does simply stating what is actually happening:

She had let her hands rest on his shoulders and leaned her hips against his, but he did not yet do anything to keep her there. (sounds like he is rejecting her or playing hard to get)

Since walking in the park is not an exciting thing, the same error doesn't work in my first example.

  • to do something until means: to do something up to the point at which. The OP's sentence does not seem weird. Your second one does, to me.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 20:14

He would have done anything means he was, at that moment, willing to do anything (anything repeated for emphasis) if it would make her stay with her hands on his shoulders and her hips against his.

would modal verb (INTENTION) ​ also 'd
used to refer to an intention from the point of view of the past:

He said he would always love her.
They promised that they would help.
There was nobody left who would (= was willing to) do it.
I asked him to move his car but he said he wouldn't (= he refused).

Would (modal verb)

  • I got your point, but why is “have” used instead of using would with no have? Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 19:38
  • Tᴚoɯɐuo answered this question from you yesterday. Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 19:51

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