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Sometimes it is very difficult for non-native speakers to understand the meaning of 'would'. So, why do these sentences use 'would'? If I change 'would serve' to 'served', is this wrong? What is the difference betweeen 'served' and 'would serve'? If I change 'would reach' to 'reached' or 'would become' to 'became', do these sentences then have different meanings?

  • In all, more than 4,000,000 Americans served in the armed forces during the first World War. And 16 million would serve during the second one.
    (the first one is 'served', why is the second one 'would serve'?)

  • And, historians say, the sauce was probably first created in a Chinese community in northern Vietnam. Later, this sauce would reach Indonesia and be called kecap.
    (why not 'reached'?)

  • William Henry Harrison would become the ninth U.S. president.
    (why not 'became'?)

Why do these example sentences need the word 'would'?

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  • 1
    It is a shift of the temporal point of view from the present to a time in the past. He won the primary and would go on to become president. We are shifted there to the time of winning the primary. The presidency was still in the future at that point. The shift is not needed, merely allowed. There's a subtle temporal drama involved in this changing of perspective. Jun 19 '18 at 15:16
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According to Cambridge Dictionary

would modal verb (FUTURE)

used to refer to future time from the point of view of the past


In all, more than 4,000,000 Americans served in the armed forces during the first World War. And 16 million would serve during the second one.

4,000,000 Americans served (WWI) - after that, in the future of this point in time - 16 million would serve (WWII)

The same applies to your second phrase.

In the third, there is no mention to a previous date. I'm not sure about this one. Maybe it lack some omitted part centered in Harrison's previous life.

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