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…I used to run with them, and had great fun; we used to gallop all together round and round the field as hard as we could go. Sometimes we had rather rough play, for they _____ frequently bite and kick as well as gallop.

I googled for the original text and I got the answer that the missing word is "would". But I am not quite convinced of it as the only answer, and I think "might" is also acceptable here grammatically.

What's more, I find the sentence itself not very logical: I don't think "They(they are horses) would frequently bite and kick as well as gallop" can be the reason for "had rather rough play". The horses preferred to play in a violent way because they tended to bite and kick? I can hardly understand the logic here.

Can you help me?

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    I read a bit more. It's clear now that that I refers to a horse. This would (sense 4 "used for saying what someone used to do in the past") suggests what usually happened (as some people call this "habitual"). It goes well with used to run, and used to gallop in the same paragraph. So, "The ponies prefered to play in a violent way because they tended to bite and kick?" - Yes, that's right. (By the way, I think colt and pony do not have quite the same meaning.) – Damkerng T. Jan 6 '15 at 1:20
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    "we had rather rough play": The word "rather" is meant to intensify the roughness of the "play" (a noun here). It's not meant to indicate preference. – ADTC Jan 6 '15 at 4:47
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You have two questions:

Filling in the blank

It's clear that you need a conjugated auxiliary verb to fill in the blank, since bite, kick, and gallop are all in their infinitive form rather than in a past tense form.

These sentences are talking about the habitual past. Possible auxiliary verbs you could use for habitual past are used to and would.

Used to implies that the biting and kicking happened habitually in the past, but was no longer going on. That's not the case here — the biting and kicking was concurrent with the rough play. Therefore, even though used to appears twice in the previous sentence, it's not appropriate for filling in the blank.

Might is not quite right, as it clashes with frequently. It expresses a possibility of something happening, and here we are talking not about a possibility, but something that did happen, repeatedly.

By elimination, would is the word of choice.

Use of for

For is being used as a conjunction, with a similar meaning to because. You could interpret the sentence as

Sometimes we played in a way that could be classified as rather rough, because they would frequently bite and kick as well as gallop.

  • How to understand "had rather"? – dennylv Jan 6 '15 at 2:28
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    Rather modifies rough. It is a hedge word that reduces the intensity of the roughness. – 200_success Jan 6 '15 at 2:33
  • That's it! I misunderstood it as "would rather" before. "Play" is a noun here. Thanks a lot! – dennylv Jan 6 '15 at 2:44
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    @dennylv: Note that "had rather" can mean "would rather" -- just not in this case. (Sorry if you already realize this. I couldn't tell from your comment.) – ruakh Jan 6 '15 at 7:39

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