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Although I understand that "would" is the past tense form of "will", I don't understand why sometimes it is used in a place where a simple past would be more apt. This is especially true when narrating a story from the past.

Example: "In 1955, he would study architecture."

What does this mean?

  1. How is this different from "In 1955, he went in to study architecture."
  2. Also, I've come across simple present tense being used to narrate something from the past. I have got no examples for this. But, is this right too?
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    A sentence like the one you quote is sometimes used when referring to past events that were still in the future at the time you are talking about (for example, this sentence may follow some information about the person's situation in 1950). Aug 7 '21 at 13:06
  • A clearer example using "would" in the past is: When he was a child he would go to the lake with his friends after school. And they would swim in the water or go fishing -- here would expresses an action that occurred several times in the past but no longer happens today.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 8 '21 at 9:56
  • Where you say: "In 1955, he went in to study architecture", do you mean, "he went on to study architecture"? Because that's the meaning "would" has in the original example
    – gotube
    Sep 22 '21 at 1:10
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It's hard to know what is being said without more context. I can think of multiple ways "In 1955, he would study architecture" makes sense.

  • It could be used to say that he regularly opened a book on architecture. E.g. "In 1955 he would study architecture everyday on the long bus ride from home to work."

  • It could also be used to indicate a conditional. "He wanted to learn how to build a log cabin. Today he would do a Google search, but in 1955 he would study architecture."

"In 1955, he went in to study architecture" sounds unnatural to me. Is it perhaps a UK or Indian way of speaking? As an American I would stay "In 1955 he entered school to study architecture" or simply "In 1955 studied architecture."

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    "Today he would Google how to build a cabin, but in 1955 he would have studied architecture"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 8 '21 at 9:50
  • "He would have studied architecture" works well and sounds better to me. But I have often seen "he would study architecture" in books and other well-edited sources.
    – Readin
    Aug 8 '21 at 21:32
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The most likely explanation is that this sentence is part of a narrative relating to things that happened in, say, 1953. At that time, he was planning to go to university to study architecture, and somebody might have said:

In 1955, he will study architecture.

Writing now about what happened in 1953, we are talking about the past, but his studying architecture is still in the future, so we use would, which is the past tense of will:

In 1955, he would study architecture.

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