This is from the BBC about a story in which a fisherman fell off the boat into sea and was finally saved. The sentence tells about his first thoughts when he fell off into the sea:

I thought I would die of cold before any help would arrive,

I can't quite understand how the "would" in the second part of the sentence emerges out of nowhere. If we go back to the original thoughts when he fell, he must have thought like this:

I think I will die of cold before any help arrives

So, now he tells about a past event and he backshifts everthing in his sentence, so the sentence should have become:

I thought I would die of cold before any help arrived.

As you see, the second part of the sentence should have been "....before any help arrived", not ".....would arrive."

How did "would" emerge while there was no "will" in the second part of original sentence?

  • He could also have thought "Maybe help will arrive eventually, but I may die of cold first." Dec 28, 2022 at 17:35
  • The man is a fisherman, not a grammarian and this is just connected speech where hesitations, omissions, etc, etc. abound. People just love to use that word backshift.
    – Lambie
    Dec 28, 2022 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


This is an example of "future-in-the-past" (which also goes by other names). The fisherman was thinking about events that were in his future ("would die", "would arrive"), but he was thinking about them in the past ("I thought"). It is common to use the auxiliary verb "would" in such situations.

(By the way, I added the "future-in-the-past" tag to your question. You may want to check out other questions with that tag for further discussions of that topic.)

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