We use will:

  • to talk about the future – to say what we believe will happen
  • to talk about what people want to do or are willing to do
  • to make promises and offers

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 – things that are imagined rather than true.
  • for politeness.

Beliefs

We use will

  • to say what we believe will happen in the future:

We'll be late.
We will have to take the train.

We use would as the past tense of will:

  • to say what we believed would happen:

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

Offers and promises

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

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

Willingness

  • 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.

We use would as the past tense of will:

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

We had a terrible night. The baby wouldn’t go to sleep. He kept waking up and crying.
Dad wouldn’t lend me the car, so we had to take the train.

  • to talk about something that we did often in the past because we wanted to do it:

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

Conditionals

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

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 talk about hypotheses, about something which is possible but not real:

  • to talk about the result or effect of a possible situation:

It would be very expensive to stay in a hotel.

  • in conditionals with words like if and what if. In these sentences the main verb is usually in the past tense:

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 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.

Phrases with would:

  • 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 that?

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

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

  • 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 that one.
I’d rather go home now.

  • 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.

 

 

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

I read this sentence"what would i not have given to be able to say that dreadful rule for participle all through,very loud and clear,and withoutout any mistake"here 'would have' use in what sense?is the speaker wishes that he would not have asked about the participle??could u help me plz

Hello fatima k,

This is a rhetorical question which means 'I would have given anything in order to...' In other words, the speaker wished for something so much that he or she was ready to pay any amount, give any gift or do any service just to achieve it.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
Is it possible to use multiple tenses in the same sentence to suggest that the different events within the same sentence have different probabilities of actualising
eg: I will be abroad, but you could email me and I would reply to your email.
to indicate that (1) I will definitely be abroad, (2) unlikely that you would want to/ need to email me, (3) but in the unlikely event that you do, I would reply
thanks in advance :)

Hello sam,

In general, yes, you can use different tenses in the same sentence to communicate the kinds of subtleties you mention, though there are different patterns that are typically followed. For example, verbs that are used after 'will' (as in your sentence) are often in the present simple or also use 'will'. In this way, your sentence would best be expressed as:

I will be abroad, but you can email me and I will reply to your email.

In general, present simple and 'will' occur together, and past simple and 'could' and 'would' occur together, e.g.:

If I were abroad, you could email me and I would reply.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks very much, Kirk! Your super clear explanation has solved something which has puzzled me for a long long time!

Talking about patterns, is there also a pattern for verbs after "should"? For example, if I rewrite the sentence above to:

should you email me, I will/ would reply.

Is there a choice, or must I use "will" or "would" following "should"? If there is a choice, would (or should I say "will"?) the two different tenses give different meanings or tones?

Similarly, if I wanted to be polite in an enrollment application, and didn't want to keep repeating "if I am accepted...", could I open a sentence with:

the course would give me excellent preparation for..., or
It would broaden my horizon,
I would meet first-class professors, etc

I would want to use "would" to show that I know my application may not get accepted, and also to be polite. However, would it come across as if I were casting doubt on their course?

Thanks a ton!

Hello sam chan,

'Should' is used as an alternative to 'will' in first conditional forms. It is has more formal tone and also makes the condition seem less likely (though still not merely hypothetical).

For example, here is the first line of the poem 'The Soldier' by Rupert Brooke:

 

If I should die, think only this of me

 

The verb in the second clause is an imperative, which we find in first conditional forms (real present/future).

 

It is possible to find examples of 'should' used in the if-clause of hypothetical conditionals, but these are generally considered non-standard, I would say. Therefore, I would suggest in a formal context you choose one of the following:

 

Should you email me, I will reply.

Were you to email me, I would reply.

 

Similarly, if I wanted to be polite in an enrollment application, and didn't want to keep repeating "if I am accepted...", could I open a sentence with:

the course would give me excellent preparation for..., or
It would broaden my horizon,
I would meet first-class professors, etc

I would want to use "would" to show that I know my application may not get accepted, and also to be polite. However, would it come across as if I were casting doubt on their course?

The use of 'would' in this way is perfectly acceptable. It carries an implied if-clause and is quite common. We see it in many requests, for example:

 

Would you mind helping me (if I asked you)?

Would it be too much trouble to show me that (if I asked you to do so)?

 

I hope that clarifies it for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Yes, that does clarify it. Thanks very much Peter!

When describing a historic fact that impacts on the future, do we use will or would? For example:
"In documents from the third century, we find almost all the vocabulary that will/would be applied to Christians in later centuries".

Thank you.

Hello bernchen,

The correct form here is 'would'. It is an example of what is sometimes called 'future in the past' - an action or state which was in the future from a perspective in the past, but which is not in our future.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much, Peter!

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