5

oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
(1) The job springboarded him into the profession at which he would eventually excel.
my subsidiary example:
(1a) The job springboards him into the profession at which he will eventually excel.

As far as I understand, (1) is correct and natural because (1) is a backshift of (1a).


my variant:
(2) The job springboarded him into the profession at which he eventually excelled.
my subsidiary example:
(2a) A dog saw a cat and ran after it.

As far as I understand, (2) is correct and natural because the verbs "springboarded" and "excelled" in (2) are in chronological order just as "saw" and "ran" in (2a) are.


What is the difference in meaning between (1) with "would excel" and (2) with "excelled"?
If they mean the same, then which of (1) and (2) is more natural?

2
  • ...but your example 2a is just another "past + past" example, matching the first one one from the dictionary (i.e. - springboarded + would). The second dictionary example is completely different, because it shows how if the first verb is present, the second verb needs to be future (i.e. - springboards + will). It should be A dog sees a cat and runs after it, for consistency. Oct 10, 2023 at 17:40
  • 1
    Don't you think 1) and 1a) are far from the only choices and either way, no back-shift is involved? Oct 12, 2023 at 0:06

4 Answers 4

15

In terms of the timeline of what happened, both "would eventually excel" and "eventually excelled" have the same meaning: the job got him into the profession, and after some time, he excelled.

The difference is in the time perspective of the narration.

The version with "excelled" simply means, first he got a job in that profession, and later on he excelled in it -- basic time order narration. After this, a reader might expect to hear about his great successes in the profession, his legacy, or what he did after retirement.

The version with "would excel" roughly means, he got the job (and later he did succeed in the field, but our focus is still on the time he started this job). The narrator is talking about the effect of getting the job, and is giving you a sneak peek into what the outcome would be. After this sentence, the reader would expect the story to continue at around the time he got that first job.

5
  • Downvote without comment?
    – gotube
    Oct 11, 2023 at 4:38
  • 8
    You're a moderator and you still haven't gotten used to that?
    – Barmar
    Oct 11, 2023 at 14:59
  • 2
    @Barmar It sets an expectation, and often elicits the criticism I was looking for. If my answer is wrong or defective, I want to know why so I can make it better or improve my answers in the future. And thanks for the edit.
    – gotube
    Oct 11, 2023 at 20:48
  • 7
    But you know that the downvoter is long gone and will never see it and answer. I think 99% of the downvotes I've received have been silent. I just let it slide.
    – Barmar
    Oct 11, 2023 at 20:52
  • 4
    @Barmar OK. You do you.
    – gotube
    Oct 11, 2023 at 21:06
13

As is so often the case, a lot depends on context and the nuance of one’s intended meaning. Sentence 1 (with would) sits more firmly fixed in that moment when the springboarding originally took place. From that perspective, his excelling remained in the future. Your variant 2 (with the simple past) has more the feel of being reported from some moment after his excelling had been achieved.

5

Further to Paul Tanenbaum's answer, the sentence is a story in miniature, talking about an event in the past that springboarded him into a profession. From the perspective of that moment in the past when the springboarding took place, his success lay ahead of him, and when speaking of the future from a vantage point in the past, we backshift the tense from will to would.

He knew that one day he would excel at that profession.

But if we speak of the springboarding not as an event completed in the past, relegated to the past, but rather as an event which has just now taken place, we can say this:

And so our hero has been springboarded into a profession at which he will one day excel.

1

Each one is valid with slightly different context.

(1) The job springboarded him into the profession at which he would eventually excel.

That sentence is situated in the past, from the perspective of the present. Because we're in the present, we know he excelled in the profession, but they're talking about how in the past, the job springboarded him into the profession.

(1a) The job springboards him into the profession at which he will eventually excel.

That sentence is situated firmly in the present. The narrator doesn't really know he will eventually excel because it hasn't happened yet, but the narrator is confident it will.

(2) The job springboarded him into the profession at which he eventually excelled.

That sentence is situated firmly in the past. It's every similar to (1), except it's 100% looking back in time, whereas you can think of (1) as situating itself back in time and then looking forward to the present.

I'm a native English speaker, but I'm not a linguist, so take what I've said with the proverbial grain of salt.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .