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A conditional sentence makes the reported part past tense and back-shifted.

Example 1:

If I were you, I would say that I didn't want to join his team.


"Would" can be used to make the statement sound more tentative or more uncertain.

Example 2:

Building a shopping mall would stimulate the local economic growth.

Example 3:

He would get into the showbiz and become a famous actor one day.


I wonder whether this kind of "would" use (which makes the statement sound more uncertain, more polite, or more tentative) triggers the hypothetical sense in reported speech.

For example:

Example 4:

The teachers would predict that he one day entered/enter the showbiz and became/become a famous actor.

Example 5:

Building a shopping mall in this town would make people think spending lots of money was/is ok.

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    If I am correct, "that he one day entered/enter the showbiz" is grammatically wrong, it should be "that one day he would enter the showbiz"
    – DialFrost
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 14:02
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    Example 2 is not 'tentative', it's just a prediction. Example 4 should read The teachers predicted that he would one day enter showbiz (not the showbiz) and become a famous actor. Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 15:17
  • @KateBunting Example #3 also doesn't seem tentative to me; it appears to be future-in-the-past. Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 21:32
  • @MarcInManhattan - Agreed. Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 7:28

2 Answers 2

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You claim that in examples 4 and 5, the verb "would" "makes the statement sound more uncertain, more polite, or more tentative". However, it does not necessarily do so in either sentence. The examples could be analyzed as apodoses (principal clauses of conditional sentences), as examples of "future in the past", or perhaps in other ways. ("Would", like all modals, is a very slippery verb.)

For example 4, the following would be correct:

The teachers would predict that he would one day enter showbiz and become a famous actor.

(Note that I deleted the second "the" because "showbiz" does not normally take a determiner.)

For example 5, "would" does trigger the past tense, so "was" would be correct. However, you could also use "is" if you considered the action to be timeless.

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For examples 4 and 5, both your sentences are wrong. It is supposed to be

The teachers would predict that he would one day enter the showbiz and become a famous actor.

OR

The teachers would predict that one day he would enter the showbiz and become a famous actor.

Building a shopping mall in this town would make people think spending lots of money is ok.

You have to use present tense for both these sentences, as "predict" is present tense, and "building" is present participle tense.

Past tense in this case "entered" and "became" can only be used without the "would" and the word "predict" changed to past tense "predicted"

The teachers predicted one day that he entered the showbiz and became a famous actor.

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  • Thank you for your reply. As my Example 1 shows, the kind of hypothetical use of "would" makes the tense in the reported speech back-shifted (past tense). I wonder why you said Example 5 doesn't trigger back-shifted. I thought it is a kind of conditional sentence with an implicit if-clause.
    – vincentlin
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 18:58
  • Doesn't example 5 not have if-clause? @vincentlin
    – DialFrost
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 23:40

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