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'will' and 'would'

Level: beginner

We use will:

  • to express beliefs about the present or future
  • to talk about what people want to do or are willing to do
  • to make promises, offers and requests.

would is the past tense form of will. Because it is a past tense, it is used:

  • to talk about the past
  • to talk about hypotheses (when we imagine something)
  • for politeness.

Beliefs

We use will to express beliefs about the present or future:

John will be in his office. (present)
We'll be late. (future)
We will have to take the train. (future)

We use would as the past of will, to describe past beliefs about the future:

I thought we would be late, so we would have to take the train.

Willingness

We use will:

  • to talk about what people want to do or are willing to do:

We'll see you tomorrow.
Perhaps Dad will lend me the car.

  • to talk about typical behaviour, things that we often do (because we are willing to do them):

We always spend our holidays at our favourite hotel at the seaside. We'll get up early every morning and have a quick breakfast then we'll go across the road to the beach.

We use would as the past tense of will:

  • to talk about what people wanted to do or were willing to do in the past:

We had a terrible night. The baby wouldn't go to sleep.
Dad wouldn't lend me the car, so we had to take the train.

  • to talk about typical behaviour, things that we often did (because we were willing to do them) in the past:

When they were children they used to spend their holidays at their grandmother's at the seaside. They'd get up early every morning and have a quick breakfast. Then they'd run across the road to the beach.

Promises, offers and requests

We use I will or We will to make promises and offers:

I'll give you a lift home after the party.
We'll come and see you next week.

We use Will you … ? or Would you … ? to make requests:

Will you carry this for me, please?
Would you please be quiet?

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Level: intermediate

Hypotheses and conditionals

We use will in conditionals to say what we think will happen in the present or future:

I'll give her a call if I can find her number.
You won't get in unless you have a ticket.

We use would to make hypotheses:

  • when we imagine a situation:

It would be very expensive to stay in a hotel.
I would give you a lift, but my wife has the car today.

  • in conditionals:

I would give her a call if I could find her number.
If I had the money, I'd buy a new car.
You would lose weight if you took more exercise.
If he got a new job, he would probably make more money.
What if he lost his job? What would happen then?

We also use conditionals to give advice :

Dan will help you if you ask him.

Past tenses are more polite:

Dan would help you if you asked him.

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See also: Verbs in time clauses and conditionals

Level: beginner

Expressions with would

We use:

  • would you…, would you mind (not) -ing for requests:

Would you carry this for me, please?
Would you mind carrying this?
Would you mind not telling him until tomorrow?

  • would you like ..., would you like to ...  for offers and invitations:

Would you like another drink?
Would you like to come round tomorrow?

  • I would like …, I'd like … (you)(to) ... to say what we want or what we want to do:

I'd like that one, please.
I'd like to go home now.

  • I'd rather… (= I would rather) to say what we prefer:

I'd rather have the new one, not the old one.
I don't want another drink. I'd rather go home.

  • I would thinkI would imagine, I'd guess to give an opinion when we are not sure or when we want to be polite:

It's very difficult, I would imagine.
I would think that's the right answer.

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Comments

Dear Team,

First of all, I appreciate this site and team that are helpful to English learners and your effort for all these. I read most of threads here, and am leaving this for clarifications. The word, "would" must be tricky -- every dictionary explains it in all different ways and here we see another way judging it as "hypothetical." If my understanding is correct, your definition of hypercritical is "likely less than 50%," never greater than 50% in all your explanations (I am not mentioning when it is used as politeness or requests). And my questions are:

1) Does the rule applies to both UK and US?
2) Will all natives in UK and US agree or be innate to the usage?
3) Suppose that English natives in general may not use under that rule, like natives in any languges don't have a perfect command in their own in grammatical sense or else. Does all the writers in UK or US newpapers correctly write under the rule?
4) What will be a word to express, say, about "51% to 70%" likely? I think that you aggreed that "will" is somehow too strong when I read threads, so I guest it will be, say, "70% to 90%(or 100%)." Will "should" be the word, or what would you sugggest?

The reason for all these questions is that if "would" is "less than 50% likely," I must have misunderstood all the readings and spoken or written all the wrongs to make my audiences confused for all those years - I understood and used "would" as "51% to 70%," which has convinced me from dictionaies usually havong more that ten meanings, so I am now pretty much baffled. If you ask for context to explain all those,I would suggest Collins dictionary that will be good context basis to discuss. I am sorry for these long questions but I feel like all those years of studying English looks futile now when I found this new kind of approach to "would." Please help me.

Hello Stonehead1,

Would has many uses, but if we are talking about its use to describe hypothetical situations then I think seeing it as having a less than 50% likelihood in the speaker's view is accurate, and this is the same in the UK and the US, and everywhere else in the English-speaking world as far as I am aware.

 

There are some things to bear in mind, however.

First, remember that this is a subjective assessment. In other words, it is how the speaker sees the action, not how likely it really is. If I am a mad optimist then I may think my chances of winning a lottery are very high, even if they are extremely low in reality.

Second, remember that it is not the action that is unlikely per se, but the condition which causes it. For example:

1. If she said sorry, I'd forgive her.

2. I would tell you not to take the job.

In the first sentence, the forgiving is certain if the condition is met. However, the condition (that she says sorry) is unlikely in the speaker's eyes.

In the second sentence, the condition is implied: if you asked me. It is this condition which is unlikely: I would tell you not to take the job, if you asked me (but I know you won't ask me).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I appreciate your reply. I would ask one unanswered question (assuming all yes for 1),2),3) ) and one follow-up.

1) What will be a word to express, say, about "51% to 70%" likely? I think that you agreed that "will" is somehow too strong when I read threads, so I guest it will be, say, "70% to 90%(or 100%)." Will "should" be the word, or what would you suggest?

2) This is one of list of definitions for "would" from Collins Dictionary.

4. Modal Verb: You use would, or would have with a past participle, to indicate that you are assuming or guessing that something is true, because you have good reasons for thinking it.
You wouldn't know him.
His fans would already be familiar with Caroline.
That would have been Della's car.
He made a promise to his great-grandfather? That would have been a long time ago.
It was half seven; her mother would be annoyed because he was so late.

According to the definition here, the second example sentence, "His fans would already be familiar with Caroline," will mean (James' fans knew that Caroline is James' girlfriend, so from the news that James will marry,) his fans would already be familiar with Caroline (now.)

How can this definition and example sentence fit into "hypothetical"?

Hello again StoneHead1,

1) I don't think you can put percentages on words in this way. More likely than not vs less likely than not is the distinction; anything more specific than this really subjective and a question of style and rhetoric, and can be expressed though lexical choice, intonation, facial expression etc.

2) In my earlier answer I began by saying 'Would has many uses...'. Expression hypothetical meaning is one use, but there are others, as outlined on this page. The Collins definition/explanation/summary is an example of a different use. Of course, there is often an underlying concept which ties the various uses together, but languages develop organically so that the way a word is used may be quite far from its original conceptual root.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi

The reason my prior reply was deleted seems well to explain the identity of this site and your unethical writing. Very disappointing. Please educate right.

Hello Stonehead1,

Your comment was read and considered. It was not published in the comments section because it was not a language-related comment, but rather a message to the team who run the site.

 

As I said, we are a small team here at LearnEnglish providing a service free of charge for many users around the world. It sometimes takes a few days to answer questions and we ask only for patience from our users.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
Is the reply being delayed, discussed or else?

Hello StoneHead1,

No, the reply is not being discussed or delayed. We are a small team here and it sometimes takes us some time to reply. Please be patient - we will get around to replying but there are other comments ahead in the queue. Posting reminders to us only delays the process.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi everyone. What does "would" mean in the sentence "...would mean"?

A: If I had superpowers, I "could" or "can" teleport to different places in a second, and I "could" or "can" save the world.

So, should I use “could” or “can”?

B: Good question.
Use could: “ … or in the result clause, where it means would be able to.”

“If I had superpowers, I could teleport to different places in a second, and I could save the world!”

You are imagining an unreal situation. "Can" in this sentence would mean “be able to,” and you aren’t able to do the things in your sentences!

Hello Crokong,

I'm afraid I'm not sure I understand all of your questions. I'll answer what I can, but please ask again if I've missed something.

In A, 'could' is correct and 'can' is not. This is because you are clearly talking about an imaginary or hypothetical situation ('If I had ...' shows this), and in such a situation, you need to use 'would' or 'could' in the other clause.

As I stated earlier, 'can' is not correct when speaking about an unreal situation.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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