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Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shall_and_will#As_past_of_shall_and_will

♦ He left Bath in 1890, and would never return. ♦ (in fact he never returned after that)

Seeing as this sentence is located below the 'As past of shall and will' heading, I can infer that would here means the "future-in-the-past" tense of 'will', so the meaning in the bracket is right.

Yet what if no context were given, and the sentence between the lozenges stood alone? Then is it ambiguous? How would you determine whether would meant any of the following definitions: 2, 3, or 5?
If so, the reader knows that he hopes never to return, but can't infer whether he returned or not?

2. (Expressing the conditional mood) indicating the consequence of an imagined event or situation
3. Expressing a desire or inclination
5. Expressing a conjecture, opinion, or hope

  • "[...] and he should never return." is also possible I think. Slightly different meaning ("he was never expected to return"). – Avigrail Jan 28 '15 at 6:26
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I have always understood "would never return" as used above (that is, in a narrative that sets the action in the past and then establishes a future-looking perspective in the past moment) to be synonymous with "never to return", having nothing to do with volition or hope or inclination.

Unless you have a verb that takes a that-clause as complement, e.g. insisted | swore | said | feared | thought | declared | hoped | wished (that) he would never return there is no inclination, hope, conjecture, or opinion; it is simply the simple past of will.

P.S. That said, if someone were to say "I would go to the beach every day and collect shells", we would need context to determine whether she were expressing a present wish, or telling a story about childhood summers spent by the sea. In the example cited in the original question, "He left Bath in 1890" provides the needed context.

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