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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. I usually see this sentence when someone is asking a question.
Any help would be greatly appreciated. My question is why "would" is used rather than "will"?

I'd guess earthquakes will happen. ;)

What's the difference between "the baby wouldn’t go to sleep" and "the baby didn’t go to sleep", then?

Hello Emon mia,

Assuming that both of these sentences are referring the past, both mean that the baby didn't go to sleep, but the first one (with 'wouldn't') also tells us that the baby didn't want to sleep -- it was resisting in some way, or at least the speaker perceives that it was resisting falling asleep.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot, Kirk!

Hi everyone. Is "would" used for talking about something which hasn't happened?

For us to fail now would be a disaster.
It would be very expensive to stay in a hotel.

In the above sentences, "fail now" and "stay in a hotel" haven't happened. Am I right?

Hi Crokong,

Good question! It's true these things haven't happened, but we can use other words and structures (e.g. willgoing to) for things that haven't happened, not only would.

In these two sentences, would presents the situations as hypothetical (i.e. imagined by the speaker; not necessarily based on reality). The first speaker doesn't seem to think that failure is likely, and the second speaker doesn't have any realistic plans to stay in a hotel.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan R. I'm a little bit confused. In the first sentence, does the *would* show a possibility? The speaker is not sure about failure now?

There is a match in action moments away. The two teams are out on the pitch. Man Utd's win would move up to second. What does "would" mean here?

Hi Crokong,

Yes, it's a possibility that the speaker is imagining. But the speaker doesn't seem sure that the failure/disaster will actually happen. If the speaker was sure, he/she might say It's going to be a disaster or We're going to fail instead.

It's similar in your second example: Man Utd's win would move them up to second. That means, if Man Utd win, they will move up to second place in the league. But, since this is before the match, the speaker uses would because he/she can't be sure about the outcome of the match (i.e. whether Man Utd will actually win or not).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Are these sentences very polite? I would wonder in what situations would people use these expressions??

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

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