I am reading a newspaper, and I've encountered the sentence that I can't understand.

That is "would go back".

I think " I would go back" means "If I return to the past". But the sentence in below is hard to understand. Just in case, I attach whole context.

“Name any country in Africa, and I could have found a world-class firm there a decade ago,” says John Page of the Brookings Institution, a think tank, the co-author of a forthcoming book on African manufacturing. “The problem is, two years later, I’d go back and still find just the one firm. In Cambodia or Vietnam, I would go back and find 50 new ones.”

How could I understand the meaning of " would go back "?

Is there anything word instead of " would go back" ?


Would here is used for a subjunctive mood which is used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, obligation, or action that has not yet occurred.

In the above sentence, would shows a possibility and action that has not yet occurred. You could rephrase it to:

If I had found a (just one) world-class firm in any country in Africa a decade ago, I would find the same company two years later (from a decade ago, 8 years ago).

If I had found a (just one) world-class firm in Cambodia or Vietnam a decade ago, I would find 50 new ones two years later (8 years ago).

The writer compares Africa (with a low economic growth rate) with Cambodia and Vietnam (with a very high rate).

The reason the writer didn't use would have found is he is confident that he could find them (one company in Africa, 50 in the two countries) and actually finding them is not hypothetical. If the writer were not confident, he would use would have found.

  • Thank you. Your explain is really helpful. Easy and accurate. I totally understand. – Young Nov 26 '15 at 4:51

This is the past-tense form of will used as a 'future-in-past': that is, something which lay in the future of some past time. In this case the past time is a decade ago, so think of 'backshifting' a present-tense utterance ten years:

Right now I could find a world class firm there—but I will go back two years from now and ...

A decade ago I could have found a world-class firm there—but I would go back two years later and ...


"would" is the past tense form of will.

Because it is a past tense it is used to talk about hypotheses – things that are imagined rather than true.

Which is the situation here.

Another equivalent phrasing : "If I were to go back to Cambodia or Vietnam now, I would find 50 new firms".

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