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During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain's displeasure with continued Danish trade with the French would lead to increasingly aggressive skirmishes at sea.

Britain would grow increasingly concerned that Denmark's fall to the French was inevitable, leaving Britain with restricted access to the Baltic Sea, an unthinkable loss to the British military command.

What do those two Would in the texts mean? And what's the differences with Simple Past Tense?

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  • Native speakers told me that this is all but future in the past.
    – dolco
    Mar 27, 2019 at 7:06

1 Answer 1

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The topic of the sentences is in the past, so would means habitual or usual action here: During the Napoleonic Wars, Britain's displeasure with continued Danish trade with the French would lead (= often led) to increasingly aggressive skirmishes at sea. Britain would grow (= usually grew) increasingly concerned that Denmark's fall to the French was inevitable, leaving Britain with restricted access to the Baltic Sea, an unthinkable loss to the British military command.

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  • Thank you so much. Yours have solved many questions I had. And I up-voted your post but the one who replied before might have down-voted yours and deleted his own, I guess. And here is one more question, If you don't mind. //"Haile Selassie returned to his throne as Emperor of Ethiopia following Italy's defeat, and he would rule successfully for nearly 40 years before the arrival of a new threat."// Here, when I switch 'would rule' to 'often ruled' or 'usually ruled', It somehow doesn't feel right. Any other substitute words for this one please?
    – dolco
    Aug 12, 2018 at 9:29
  • @dolco will/would are tricky verbs, they may mean: 1) a future tense 2) willingness 3) usual action 4) certainty. In your example it's just the future tense in the past, but seen from the present point of view—we now know that he returned and that he would rule for 40 years. I'm not a native speaker and get constantly baffled by those verbs too. BTW the future in the past may work in both your sentences also, so maybe I'm wrong after all. Let's wait for more comments from native speakers. Aug 12, 2018 at 10:30

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