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My dad let the bike go without telling me.

My dad would let the bike go without telling me.

What is difference between two sentences? Why 'would' is inserted in this sentence? what 'would' mean in this sentence?

'would' is somewhat difficult word to me(non-native) That is past form of 'will' but is used in future tense and present tense and of course past tense. very confusing. Additionally 'would' is used as 'modal verb' and in 'subjunctive mood'. OMG~! What are you 'would'?

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2 Answers 2

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When some sort of repeated action is described, "would" can stand in for "each time [...] was likely to."

Consider:

My dad held the bike from the back as I rode it. Each time, after about an hour, my dad was likely to let go of the bike without telling me.

"Would," however, is shorter and far more elegant.

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Yes, 'would' tends to confuse many people. In the above sentence, an event is being reported to somebody as an extract from the subject's past. While reporting the event in a particular timeline, the listener tends to understand it as if happened just now (For his better of the event, based on virtual visualization). So, when you say 'an hour later', it refers to the future, in the listener's perspective. To maintain the actual order of the timeline, a would is used, to emphasize the fact that it is still in the subject's past.

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  • What? I'm so confused... You're clearly correct, as there's no other reasonable interpretation of the passage, but as a native speaker I have never heard of and indeed didn't recognize this usage of would. Does this tense actually exist? Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 6:57
  • I see. After a little research, I found that this is some convoluted extension of the subjunctive mood to describe actual events in the past. It is equally likely that the subjunctive mood hijacked the past tense of will from this original sense of past-future events, but this meaning is no less alien to me as a result. Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 7:06
  • in the above comment I mean conditional, not subjunctive. I'm somewhat weirded out that this tense exists, still. Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 7:15
  • Ahh! I found where it was hiding! When you watch a historical movie, and they give a "where are they now" during the credits, they use this tense. Such as "Jerry would later find out where his cash was stashed, and founded a museum of gunslingers." or something. "I moved to a new house, and I would live there for the next twenty years, until I wrote the novel that became this movie." Sorry, I'm having fun making these up because I never thought about this until now. Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 7:20
  • Okay, last comment: this is the fundamental weirdness of being a native speaker, tenses and meanings can hide in plain sight, and never be given a second thought. But I still can't read the text above without trying to give a habitual or conditional sense to the word would. My mind does the time jump with "After an hour" and then "would" no longer makes sense. If it wasn't such a hard jump, like for example "an hour later, my dad would let..." I read that as past-future, but it also feels really detached, like it's an attempt to create emotional distance from the event that happened. Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 7:26

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