EN: He'd try anything

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by lamy08, Jan 9, 2013.

  1. lamy08 Senior Member


    Je ne suis pas sûre du sens de would dans cette phrase:

    He was a fearless sportsman. He'd try anything.
    C'était un sportif sans peur. Il essayait tout/Il a tout essayé.
    --> ... Il aurait essayé n'importe quoi

  2. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Dans ce cas, comme c'est un conditionnel d'habitude, je le traduirais par un imparfait : Il essayait tout et n'importe quoi.
  3. lamy08 Senior Member

    Merci Maître Capello
  4. Animadversor New Member

    New York
    English (American)
    Yes, Maître Capello, but since there are two tenses in English with which one can express habitual action in the past, viz., the simple past and the conditional, one must expect to find some subtle difference between the two; and the difference, I should propose, is this, that the simple past, when used for an habitual action, indicates merely an habitual action, whereas the "conditional" also suggests something about the volition—the will or even the desire—of the actor. I have used quotation marks because I don't think that would here is really a conditional. It seems rather to be a survival of the old past tense of will as an independent verb meaning to want or even to intend. It should be remembered that the modern conditional tense is formed from what is in origin the old past tense of will plus the infinitive without to, and that in the case before us the meaning is not unconnected with the noun will, meaning volition. For a better, longer, and much clearer and more elegant explanation, I recommend Fowler's treatment in The King's English. This is not something that is easy even for us native English-speakers. The nuances are so subtle and so instinctively apprehended that it is hard to give a satisfyingly clear explanation. So, I should say that perhaps a better way to say in French He'd try anything is possibly Il voulait bien essayer n'importe quoi. But I submit my answer to the judgment of the more learned and the more articulate.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2013
  5. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    You are correct about the volition conveyed by would, but it is something quite difficult to translate into French. As a matter of fact, in French you cannot express both repetition and volition using a single tense. (Il voulait tout essayer does not imply any repetition.) Your translation therefore conveys volition but you lose the habitual aspect. If you want to make the underlying volition clearer in French while keeping the repetition aspect, you could however say, Il voulait toujours tout essayer.
  6. Mauricet Senior Member

    near Grenoble
    French - France
    Le même objectif peut être atteint avec la formule Il essayait volontiers n"importe quoi. Plus généralement : would + infinitif --> imparfait + volontiers, qui associe volition et répétition dans le passé. (Et il me semble que anything est plutôt n'importe quoi /quel sport que tout, ici).

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