at any minute he would have to strike her

Kefirka

Senior Member
Russian
What is it, Michael?” She broke off crossly, for Michael had grasped her skirt in his hands and was shaking her.
“Did she say she’d come back?” he cried, nearly knocking his Mother over. “Tell me — did she?”
“You will not behave like a Red Indian Michael,” she said, loosening his hold.
...
“You are a very cruel woman,” said Michael, clenching his fist as though at any minute he would have to strike her.

Mary Poppins
________________________________________________________________

Michael could not possibly strike his mother...
Therefore "have to" can't be neither "must to" nor "ought to", and "would" can't be ""will" in the past".
I don't understand that "would have to" then :(
 
  • xyzyxx

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    The key phrase here is "as though".

    The whole sentence is just describing the clenched fists. They were clenched in the same way someone would clench their fist if they were about to hit someone. It does not imply he was actually going to hit anyone.
     

    lorelord

    Senior Member
    UK - english
    Michael was getting so enraged with her responses, that at any moment he might strike her. He was clenching his fists out of sheer loss of control through rage. It is unlikely that he intended to hit his mother or that he did.

    It reads perfectly well in the original - i believe you may be overlooking the sense of "as though".
     
    Last edited:

    Sparky Malarky

    Moderator
    English - US
    I'm with you, Kefirka. I don't understand "have to" either. Michael might choose to strike his mother, but why would he have to?

    Two possiblities come to mind:
    1. Michael clenched his fist as though he felt that at any minute he might have to defend himself against his mother, who would strike him.
    2. Michael clenched his fist as though he was about to lose control of himself and have such a strong compulsion to strike his mother that he would not be able to prevent himself from doing so.

    I think the meaning is number 2. I suspect the writer was trying to indicate that Michael was so upset that he was beginning to lose control of himself. Soon, if this continued, he would actually strike his mother. He hadn't done so yet, but he had already (perhaps unconsiously) clenched his fist in preparation.
     

    xyzyxx

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    xyzyxx Can I make the change: "as though at any minute he would ought to strike her"?
    I don't think "would ought" can be proper English. At least I've never heard it before.
    "ought to" is a synonym for "should", referring to something that would be the best course of action. It doesn't really fit here.

    Sparky, I'm sure number 2 is correct. The phrase "as though at any minute he would have to strike her" is basically saying he appeared to have an urge​ to strike her.
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    I think by "would have to strike her," Travers is trying to say "would be compelled to strike her." She isn't saying Michael would actually strike his mother, but she's saying he looks almost as though he's reached that point.
     

    Hau Ruck

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Sparky, I'm sure number 2 is correct. The phrase "as though at any minute he would have to strike her" is basically saying he appeared to have an urge​ to strike her.
    Agreed. The author isn't really saying he would have to. It is just a way to express his outright anger and potential lack of control.
    No one has to hit someone; however, when that enraged and that emotional, one might almost feel that they have to.
     

    Hau Ruck

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I would stay clear of modifying an author's words. They use particular words for particular reasons.

    Have to doesn't carry it's standard meaning. In my opinion, the author is expressing the boys emotions through those words. He feels that he is almost compelled to hit her. I believe it was a very good word choice, and as such, should be honored for the way it was written.
     
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