He was very ill at that time, but he would go.

His income was still small, but she would marry him.

At last she put her arms round the top, as far as they would go.

Are these sentences all barely English? (Please see the following meaning of 'would' from OALD. According to OLAD, 'would' can't be used to show that somebody/something was willing or insisted to do something.)

one meaning of 'would': (would not do something) used to show that somebody/something was not willing or refused to do something

ex1) She wouldn't change it, even though she knew it was wrong.

ex2) My car wouldn't start this morning.

(from Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary)

1 Answer 1


I question the interpretation of that passage from OALD. It states that it is possible to use "would not" to indicate unwillingness, but it it doesn't actually state that you can't use "would" for willingness. It certainly is possible: here is an example.

He'd made a promise to her and he damn well would keep it. - The Rogue's last scandal: Alina K Field, 2017

There is an alternative meaning of the word "would" that works in all of these sentences. In fact, the much simpler meaning is appropriate in all of the sentences. The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as:

used to refer to future time from the point of view of the past

While willingness is a possible meaning for the first two- the context would indicate the intended meaning- it is not for the third.

  • 1
    In the first two, would could have the meaning was determined to - but not in the third. Commented Aug 4, 2023 at 8:01
  • @KateBunting fair comment. I have updated my answer.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Aug 5, 2023 at 2:24

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