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I have a trouble to determine tense in the following sentence:

The reception would be held in that house.

It is not a future simple, and future, relative to past perfect as I thought. It is because in the future simple we must use will instead of would.

  • It could be different things, more context is needed to say if it relates to future in a reported speech or the expression of an unreal situation in the present. – Laure Jun 27 '14 at 9:46
  • Is this, by any means, a conditional sentence? Though there's no if. – Maulik V Jun 27 '14 at 9:47
  • @DmitryFuncintv Why do you think that "in the future simple we must use will instead of would"? (I haven't heard such a rule.) Whom or where did you hear it or read it from? -- EDIT: I think I asked you a wrong question, a better question is "Why would you think that we must always use the future simple tense to express future events?" – Damkerng T. Jun 27 '14 at 9:49
  • @DamkerngT. Because "would" does not apply in the future simple construction described in my textbook. – Dmitrii Bundin Jun 27 '14 at 10:51
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I'm not sure if this would make sense for you, but it might be better to avoid thinking of would (and even will!) as a tense.

I have two main reasons for that. One is that it could simplify things a lot for learners to think of would and will as modal verbs, rather than to think of them the way we think of other auxiliary verbs (such as be or do) or main verbs, which will normally indicate the tense. (In other words, it's better to think of will/would the same way that you think of shall/should, can/could, and may/might) The other is that it is simpler to think of English tense system as a two-tense one, i.e. past and non-past. (This is too complex to discuss in this question, in my opinion, but it could nudge you in the right direction a little.)

Back to your sentence,

"The reception would be held in that house."

It would be better to have a more complete context, so that we could discuss it more appropriately. However, I think it's enough for our discussion to assume that it's something someone says in a dialogue. Suppose that that is the case. It means that this would is used for saying or asking what someone thinks about a possible situation (sense 3).

In what tense is it? To me, it has no tense. (This might disagree with your grammar books, but it's simpler this way.) It is something someone says in the present while that someone is thinking of a possible situation in the foreseeable future.

Would has several uses. An extremely simplified explanation of would is that it is the "less definite" form of will. It can be used as the past tense of will. It can be used in hypothetical thinking, and conditionals (those if-clauses, particularly those that you might know them as Conditional Type II) can be considered hypothetical. It can be used to put a distance between what we say and the reality, which is a way to make what we say sound more polite, because it's indirect. (For example, "I'd like to ...", "Would you mind ...?")

I hope that that should be enough to cover this question. However, please keep in mind that there might be more to would than what I've just discussed that I might have overlooked.

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The speaker is talking hypothetically about an event. There's an underlying condition:

[If everything goes according to plan...]

[If we have the reception at all...]

or any other such scenario. Consequently, this is actually the passive conditional mood, and only future by default, because it hasn't taken place yet. So it's best to think of it as non-past.

People often use this construction when hypothetically going over the logistics of something that hasn't yet happened, or proposing options for the same. If the plans were firm, they would use the passive future with will in most cases:

The reception will be held at that house.

  • There's nothing hypothetical in the use of would in the following context: "A: - How come you've found us?" B: - I knew the reception would be held at that house." – Laure Jun 27 '14 at 15:50
  • No, but the "I knew" changes everything. In the presence of verbs of reporting, sensing, thinking, etc. English insists on the use of "would" to relate the intended future tense at the time of reporting, etc. Thus "I will call" surfaces as "You know I would call." In Russian, for instance, this is not the case. The tense of the original thought, report is retained: Ты знал, что я позвоню. Literally: You knew I will call." – CocoPop Jun 27 '14 at 16:22

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