El Imperio Galáctico se derrumbaba. Era un imperio colosal que se extendía a través de millones de mundos, de un extremo a otro de la inmensa espiral doble que era la Vía Láctea. Su caída también sería colosal, y además prolongada, porque debía abarcar un enorme periodo de tiempo.

Extracto de Fundación e Imperio de Isaac Asimov

What is the highlighted verb tense: sería / debía?
Please explain in detail from the beginning.

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  • 1
    It would be a good idea to edit in to this what you think and what researches you have done. – mdewey 2 days ago
  • Is that usage of "debia" an exact copy? (the translated text doesn't seem to be right) – ipp 2 days ago
  • That is a translation from English and not good for asking about Spanish grammar. – Lambie yesterday

They are two different tenses.

Sería is in the condicional tense. In this sentence, it refers to an action that would happen in the future with respect to a time of reference in the past. It is similar to the conditional tense with "would" in English:

  • It was a colossal Empire [...]. Its fall would also be colossal.

Debía is pretérito imperfecto. It describes an action that was ongoing in the past.

  • Its fall would also be colossal, and also prolonged, because it had to span a long period of time.

It seems a strange choice of tense to me, as I would have used the condicional also here: "debería abarcar un enorme periodo de tiempo", or even better "abarcaría un enorme periodo de tiempo". The reason is that this is either a future action from the past perspective, or a hypothetical action. The pretérito imperfecto makes more sense if the action (the fall) was already happening at the point of time we are talking about, or if it is a direct consequence of another statement:

  • Los enemigos del Imperio sabían que la victoria no llegaría pronto. La grandeza del Imperio significaba que su caída debía abarcar un enorme período de tiempo.

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