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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

When I was looking up the meaning of "ill afford", I saw this explanation:
"If you say that someone can ill afford to do something, or can ill afford something, you mean that they must prevent it from happening because it would be harmful or embarrassing to them"

I notice that it uses "...would be harmful...". Could I say "will be harmful" instead?

Thanks a lot teachers!

Hello PabloTT,

The author uses would here because the situation they are describing is not a real situation but is hypothetical.

Will would be used if the situation were real. It would not just be describing something in general or theoretical terms, but would be describing an actual situation where there was a possibility of a choice being made.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir,

Thanks for your reply. Am I correct to say that it is hypothetical in the sense that when writing this sentence, the author is not referring to any particular situation in the real world?

Hello again PabloTT,

Yes, that's right.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

I would like to ask two questions. Grateful if you could help.

1. "He wouldn't apologize. He knew he was in the right" - Does the use of "wouldn't" instead of "didn't" convey an extra meaning that he was unwilling to apologize?

2. "With more emphasis on biliteracy, failing to be proficient in English would compromise academic performance and undermine the chance of getting into a post-secondary institution" - Could I use "compromises" or "will compromise" instead of "would compromise"?

Hello cms10,

Yes, that's right: 'wouldn't' means he was unwilling in sentence 1. The alternatives you ask about in sentence 2 might work or might not -- it depends on the context. If, for example, the context is one in which you are speaking of a hypothetical situation, 'would' would probably be more appropriate.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply teacher!

Regarding Sentence 2, if it is talking about a general social phenomenon, would "compromises" or "will compromise" be better?

Hello cms10,

It depends on how you are talking about the situation in which biliteracy is emphasised more (or not). If you are talking about such a change in a hypothetical way, then 'would' is fine. If you are speaking about it in a more concrete way, as something that happens some places and not so much in others, then the present simple is probably the best choice. If you are speaking about a specific situation in which this is being considered, then 'will compromise' is probably the best choice.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

May I know why "would" instead of the simple present tense is used in the following sentences?

1. It would be convenient to highlight a number of matters which emerged at the hearing.

2. In the normal course of things we would not treat her disappearance as suspicious.

Thank you.

Hello Kashvi.la27,

The present simple would be a comment on what is normal in general, not a comment on what should be done at a particular moment. For this, we use will, so you could say this:

It will be convenient to highlight a number of matters which emerged at the hearing.

However, will sounds very direct. Would is often used as a more polite form as it sounds more tentative than will.

 

Your second example uses would because the speaker is talking about a hypothetical situation:

In the normal course of things we would not treat her disappearance as suspicious. However, this situation is not normal, so it will be treated as a possible kidnapping.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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