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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.

will and would: hypotheses and conditionals

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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

Hello Amit

In this sentence, 'would' refers to a future time from the perspective of the past. It is used in the same way as the example sentence 'I thought we would be late, so we would have to take the train' (above on this page, in the Beliefs section).

In general, I wouldn't recommend using the idea of 'possibility' as a way of thinking about the modal verb 'would'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Last time a year ago, I had asked on this forum about would meaning as a probability, and it was suggested I was wrong. But I checked some of the resources from Cambridge and Mariam webster, and it said we can use this as a likely incident or Instead of could, for example,” His accent was Irish, he would be John” and ”It could be 20 ltr/It would be 20 ltr”. I am a bit confused here, and it would be great if someone could help me with this confusion.

Hello kiranpn,

I don't know the context in which those sentences appear so it's hard for me to comment. However, the first example looks like a prediction to me. We can use would just as we can use will to make predictions about the present. Will expresses more certainty.

His accent was Irish? Then he'll be John. [will]

His accent was Irish? Then he'd be John. [would]

 

The second example is likely to be similar, but without any context I can't say more.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Peter, for your time. I have noticed this is very often used with a native speaker to use "would" for presumption or guess. Would have many different meaning, and it is good to understand the context and the propose of the sentence. Sometimes it is mentioned in a sentence for the presumption, and sometimes it is used for a conditional sentence. During the conditional sentence, sometimes the first sentence is implied and just need to assume.

Hi, I need help with this text I'm analysing. It talks about how covid-19 shouldn't be considered as a silver lining for the enviroment. What I'm struggling with in particular is the use of "would" in the last sentence. Can you help me understand the meaning? How can I rephrase it? How would you define this use of would? It sounds strange to me, because I think I would use a "Should have" there (probably because I didn't understand very well what the author is trying to say)

"...... This is no one’s model of environmental response, least of all an environmentalist’s. And indeed, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography has highlighted that fossil fuel use would have to decline by about 10 percent around the world, and would need to be sustained for a year to show up clearly in carbon dioxide levels.

I also don't understand what the subject of "would need" is. Is it the decline or the use? I think it should be the "decline" and not "fossil fuel", but if it is so the sentence is not grammatically correct. Help, I'm confused. Thank you

Hi Sara_Mar,

Would is used in this example to describe a hypothetical situation. The phrase to show up has the meaning in order to show up. The sentence describes what would be necessary in order to achieve a hypothetical result.

"...... This is no one’s model of environmental response, least of all an environmentalist’s. And indeed, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography has highlighted that fossil fuel use would have to decline by about 10 percent around the world, and would need to be sustained for a year to show up clearly in carbon dioxide levels.

 

The grammatical subject of would need to be sustained is fossil fuel use. I agree that this is not semantically accurate as, as you say, what needs to be maintained is the decline rather than just the use. The sentence should be phrased as follows:

...fossil fuel use would have to decline by about 10 percent around the world, and that decline would need to be sustained for a year to...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

I need your expertise to check the following sentence.

'Dachshunds are my favourite breed of dog.'

It appears grammatically incorrect. A better construction could be the following sentence.

'Dachshund is my favourite dog-breed.'

Hi shantanu,

Both sentences are perfectly correct. You can use whichever you prefer.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,

Thank you so much for your reply. I need your advice on how to improve the overall English quality.

I have been working for a long time and I have always felt the need to improve my spoken English as well as master the English grammar. Could you please suggest how to achieve them?

I would like to know everything you usually suggest others.

Regards,
Shantanu

Hello Shantanu

We have a couple of pages with advice on learning English and on using the site. You can find them here:

  • https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/frequently-asked-questions
  • https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/getting-started

To improve you need to practise, practise and practise some more!

Below are a few tips that might be useful.

To improve your vocabulary:

  • see new and familiar words and phrases in context
  • note down new items in an organised manner
  • practise, revise and review new items systematically

The more you read -- magazines and newspapers, journals, short stories, novels, poems... in fact, whatever genre or kind of writing interests you -- the better, and you can find an inexhaustible supply on the internet, of course.

We also recommend very strongly that you start (if you haven't already) a personal vocabulary book. Organise it by topic (sports, work, appearance, finance etc) and add new words and phrases to it as you listen, watch and read in English.

Once you have built up a small collection of items in your vocabulary book, you can use it to test yourself so you can see how well you memorise the items. Cover the meanings and/or examples and try to recall them, or to translate the words and phrases into your own language.

To improve your speaking and listening:

The most important thing you can do is to speak English as often as possible. To do this a partner is very helpful, so think about the people you know and consider if any of them could be a practice partner for you. It may be that you know someone else who is also learning English and who would like to practise with you, or perhaps you know some people who do not speak your language but do speak English.

However, if you do not have a practice partner it does not mean that you cannot practise because it is possible to practise alone. Just speaking English to yourself while you are at home, going about your normal daily activities, can help a great deal with your fluency and can help you to feel more confident, which will help you to cut down your hesitating. 

You can also use the audio and video materials here on LearnEnglish to improve your fluency. After doing the exercises, try listening with the transcript (listening and reading). Then try saying the text yourself, and finally try saying it with (and at the same speed as) the recording. This will help you to develop speed in your speech, which is a key component of fluency.  You'll also pick up a lot of language as chunks - words which are often used together in set phrases - which you can use to communicate with less hesitation.

How can I improve my writing?

How to write depends upon what kind of writing you want to do, for what purpose you are writing and who the recipient is. Different kinds of writing require different language and different ways of organising the text, so the first thing to do is to take a look at as many different texts as you can. In general, to improve your writing it's important to read and write as much as possible, so keep an eye out for good examples of letters, articles and so on. Using the internet to read magazines, newspapers and other text-types from online media is a good idea.

Whatever you do, try to spend at least 15 minutes several days per week reading and/or writing. Remember also that written texts are usually well organised - unlike a lot of speech, which can often be haphazard and disorganised.  Therefore it's important to write in an organised way: start by collecting your thoughts, then plan how you are going to organise them, then write a first draft. After that, check (or get someone else to check) your draft before writing your final version. Research shows that good writers constantly review their work and amend it, so this is a good model.

It's hard for us to give individual advice to you without knowing your strengths and weaknesses and your goals, but I hope the tips and suggestions above are helpful.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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