This is news from CNN. Why did the speaker preferred to use would instead of simple past of verb stand up, stood up. Is there any specific reason ? Would the meaning of the sentence change if I said " stood up".

While reloading his handgun, the man ordered the students to stand up and asked whether they were Christians, Boylan told her family.

"And they would stand up, and he said, 'Good, you're going to see God in just about one second,' " Stacy Boylan told CNN, relaying his daughter's account. "And then he shot and killed them."

2 Answers 2


A fuller account is

“[He started] asking people one by one what their religion was. ‘Are you a Christian?’ he would ask them, and if you’re a Christian stand up. And they would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you are going to see God in just about one second.’ And then he shot and killed them,” Stacy Boylen, whose daughter was wounded at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., told CNN...

See the text and video on this site

So the would describes repeated action.


This serves as a literary device putting readers in a specific space and time as if the readers have gone back in time to experience the moment.

For example,

"When John was young, he would stare at the tree every morning."

Our perspective go back in time to when John was young, and see things at the writer's angle, that "stare at the tree" used to repeat every morning in the past.

However this usage is usual when "would" indicates a repeat of actions. If in the news above, students stood up, got asked and killed one after one, the sentence is fine. If not, the "would" is weird and "stood up" should be adopted.

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