Here is a chunk from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

They had not gone far before they saw the Mock Turtle in the distance, sitting sad and lonely on a little ledge of rock, and, as they came nearer, Alice could hear him sighing as if his heart would break.

I wonder what would means here. Is it the same as were willing? I know that will and would can be used in if-clauses (there is a question on ELU), but does as if obey the same rules?

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    It seems that this would is a 'past' form of will. He was signing as if his heart was going to break. (a related question) Nov 18, 2015 at 18:28
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    @CopperKettle Not were? I thought it was an unreal situation.
    – athlonusm
    Nov 18, 2015 at 18:31
  • Good point. Probably yes... This is called "the irrealis 'were'". Offhand googling led me to this answer. Nov 18, 2015 at 18:43
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    As if his heart were breaking, or as if it were broken, or as if it were about to break.
    – TimR
    Nov 18, 2015 at 19:08

1 Answer 1


"would" is the past tense of "will" (see britishcouncil.org)

In english, we use "would" to talk about something that might happen with "if" (see more about hypothesis and if clauses)

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