'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?

will and would 1

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will and would 2

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will and would 3

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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.

Expressions with would 1

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Expressions with would 2

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Submitted by Vanya on Fri, 03/12/2021 - 09:00

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Hello. I had a question about whether (will) indicates future prediction and something you would like to do or typical behaviour and habit in this sentence: I will have a shower and then eat breakfast.

Hi Vanya,

I think all of those meanings are possible (although prediction is perhaps less likely, since predictions are typically about other people and things, not one's own actions).

It's not clear from this sentence alone which meaning is intended, so we would need to work that out by using other information from the context in which this sentence was said or written. :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dean on Sun, 28/11/2021 - 12:15

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Hi, WHAT TENSE IS THIS?
and can we use would it the future perfect at all?

EX. Don't think about this in the long run, would have found a new job by then!

Hello Dean,

The 'would have' + past participle form is often called conditional perfect, though not everyone (including the author of this page) really agree with this name.

It's typically used to talk about a hypothetical or imaginary action -- typically one that would have occurred if the past had been different. It's often used in third conditional constructions, which you can read more about on our Conditionals 2 page (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-i…).

I'm afraid that the sentence you ask about doesn't make much sense to me, but I suppose that 'will have' seems better than 'would have' since it appears to talk about a future time rather than an imaginary one.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Tue, 23/11/2021 - 00:52

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What is the difference between I guess and I would guess? For instance.

My guess is that she is Japanese, not Chinsese.
My guess would be that she is Japanese, not Chinese.

Hi Plokonyo,

Using 'would' makes the guess more tentative. A speaker might say this if:

- they have little confidence that their guess is correct.
- they want to avoid committing themselves to a particular guess. Using "would" implies that it is possible to change one's mind in the future about the guess.
- they are reluctant to make a guess in the first place (i.e. "If you asked me, my guess would be ..." - an unreal, hypothetical present). For example, in some situations it may be socially inappropriate to try to guess somebody's nationality.

In comparison, the first sentence states the speaker's guess in a relatively simple and factual way. It suggests more confidence and commitment to that guess.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot, Jonathan. You say "would" makes the guess more tentative. Could you tell me what is meant by "tentative?" Also, what is the meaning of "hypothetical" in the use of would?

Q: What does "scorcher" mean in footbal
A: Scorch means to burn and in football a scorcher refers to a really hard shot. A scorcher is a really well-struck shot that travels very fast and powerfully into the net. Another word for this would be thunderbolt.

Here speaker A uses "would", why choose to use "would" rather than "is"?

Hi Plokonyo,

‘Tentative’ means something is not certain, or the speaker is not confident that it will actually happen. For example, if I plan to have a meeting at 10:00 but it’s not confirmed yet, then it’s a tentative plan.

‘Hypothetical’ means something is imagined in our mind, but is not necessarily true or real. It may be not true or not real because it is conditional on something else, unlikely to happen or even impossible, or an imagined alternative version of something that actually did happen.

About your second question, we’ve had several similar questions recently. Can I refer you to some of the good answers on this page below? The comment thread started by Jembut on 21/10/2021, in particular, might help - try to find that one below.

And let us know if you have any questions about it :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the explanation, Jonathan. Yes, I'm beginning to understand now. What about the the following sentence? Here is an explanation about the phrase "I mean". How does "would" work here?

The phrase "I mean...", so "I mean" as a common English phrase that we use at the beginning of sentences to empahsize what we want to say or just used to give us more time to think about what we want to say. So in this case, it would be a filler word.

Hi Plokonyo,

This is a hypothetical situation, i.e., what the word would mean if somebody used it as a filler in a sentence. It's not about any particular sentence that somebody actually said, so it is an imagined usage rather than a real usage.

By the way, I noticed that some of the examples you ask about seem to come from English learning materials. If I may suggest, it might be a good idea to ask questions to the writers/teachers themselves, if you have a chance, as they will know best what meaning they intended. Here, we can try our best to explain what they mean, but it might be better to hear from the writer of this sentence him/herself.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Sun, 14/11/2021 - 02:28

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Why do we use "would" here? And what does it mean?

In English, there are different ways to express "very cold": one would be "freezing", another would be "icy"... there are many other possibilities.

Hello Plokonyo,

We often use 'would' to describe different options to choose from. You could use the present simple here as well.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter M. I'm confused. As you have said. Either "is" or "would" can be used to describe different options. I don't know which I should choose in a sentence. Could you explain more clearly?

Hello again Plokonyo,

In this context, 'is' describes a fact about the world; 'would' describes an option you could choose if you wished. Both are perfectly fine here; it's really a question of preference for the speaker/writer.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Sat, 13/11/2021 - 07:03

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Q: Which preposition should be used in "at" or "in" school?
A: Either "at" or "in" would be correct.

Here the second speaker uses would. What does it mean?

Hello Plokonyo,

'would' shows that the second speaker is thinking about a hypothetical situation. When we're not speaking about a specific situation -- in this case, for example, a specific situation would be a paragraph where a person says 'in school' or 'at school' -- we often use 'would' to show that we're speaking in general.

I can't say for sure that's what the second speaker intended here, but I think it's probably for this reason. It's quite a common situation.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the asnwer Kirk. But I don't see at all where the hypotehtical idea is. I'm kind of confused. By the way, you also use "would" in a specific situation would be a paragraph where a person says "in school" or "at school".Could you tell me what the meaning of would in your sentence is?

Hello again Plokonyo,

That's well-spotted but it's still correct to use 'would' in that situation because it's a situation that I'm imagining. Each speaker decides whether a situation is hypothetical or imaginary or not in the way the imagine it.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Plokonyo,

If I understand you correctly, the sentence you're asking me about is "In this case, for example, a specific situation would be a paragraph where a person says 'in school' or 'at school'."

In that sentence, I'm thinking about a situation (a classroom where a teacher answers a grammar question) that is imaginary. (By the way, I could also say that is it hypothetical. In this case, 'hypothetical' and 'imaginary' have the same meaning as far as I'm concerned.) There's no need for an 'if' or some kind of condition to be present for a situation to be hypothetical or imaginary.

By thinking of that situation as imaginary, I'm not suggesting it can't exist or doesn't exist. My language reflects my own idea that the situation I'm thinking about is imaginary/hypothetical.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Mon, 01/11/2021 - 03:35

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Does "would" mean "could be" in this sentence?

To register a shot on target means to have a shot on target. In this example, United have not troubled the keeper - they have not had any shots on target. Another way of saying 'on target' would be 'on goal' - the team did not register a shot on goal.

Hi Crokong,

The speaker uses 'would' because this is a hypothetical situation. In this example, the speaker said 'on target'. The speaker did not actually say 'on goal' in this example, so we are imagining a version of the sentence that is different from the example. That's why it's hypothetical.

It is possible to say 'could be' instead of 'would be' here. That makes the sentence sound more like a suggestion.

It's also possible to say 'is' instead of 'would be'. That presents it more as a factual statement of what the words mean (rather than imagining an alternative version of the original example).

It's important to realise that all these meanings are possible and grammatically correct. It just depends what the speaker wants to say - a hypothetical alternative example, a suggestion, or a factual statement. I hope that helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot for the explanation, Jonathan.By the way, is It OK to use a second conditional to talk about a current situation? The game is underway and the commentator says something like this.

It would be staggering if this game finished goalless. Or
I would be surprised if this game finished goalless.

My interpretation is:
It will not be staggering, so this game doesn't finish goalless.
I will not be surprised, so this game doesn't finish goalless.

Thsese don't make lots of sense, or maybe I misunderstand this conditional. I'm really confused. Please help me

Hi Crokong,

Yes! We can use a second conditional to describe an unreal present or future. For example:

-- I wouldn't worry if I were you. (unreal present - I'm telling you not to worry now)
-- If I won a lot of money, I'd buy a big house in the country. (unreal future - I'm imagining this future purchase)

Actually, I think your first two examples are unreal futures (not unreal presents) because they are about the finish of the game. Presumably, the game is still going on when somebody says this, so they are talking about an imagined future event (the end of the game).

I think your interpretations are generally right, but I think the cause and effect should be the other way round. For example, I expect that the game will not finish goalless (= cause), SO it will not be staggering for me / I won't be surprised (= effect).

This page has more explanation and examples: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-i…

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. My English grqmmar book says something like this.

In UK English, if you are angry with a child, you would say that you are cross.
UK I'm cross with you for not telling me where you were going.

Is this sentence right? Shouldn't it be "if you were angry with a child, you would say..."? But I often see such a construction. where the if-clause is present, the main clause past. Or maybe "would" has other uses here?

Hi Crokong,

This is the 'conditional' usage of 'would'. You're right - people do sometimes make sentences like this, even though these sentences apparently do not follow the rules. In this case, it is unclear whether the speaker views this as a likely or an unlikely situation.

Is the sentence right? It depends. From a traditional point of view, it's an incorrect mix of different conditional structures. But from a 'real usage' point of view, people do say sentences like these, and it's clear enough that one action is conditional on the other one (even if the likeliness of it is less clear). So, it can be seen as acceptable too.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. If I don't know for sure, I'm just guessing. Do you use "would"?

A: What is the English translation of the French "trottoir"?
B: In UK, English it would be pavement, but it American English it would be sidewalk.

Hi Crokong,

It's possible, but 'could' or 'might' are more typically used for a guess (i.e., the speaker is not 100% sure that this is correct).

Here, the speaker is sure about the translation, but probably uses 'would' because he/she imagines a situation when somebody uses that word ('If you wanted to say that in UK English, it would be pavement'). It's slightly different from saying 'trottoir' means or is 'pavement' in UK English (present simple), which simply states the meaning of the word as a fact, without any imagined situation of use.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Sat, 30/10/2021 - 01:16

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Jurgen Klopp says it would be 'a crime' to rest Mohamed Salah for visit of 'tricky' Brighton |

Why is "would" used in this sentence? Is the speaker is less certain?

Hello Crokong,

We've provided a lot of similar explanations as to the use of 'would' so I think you can answer your own question here. What do you think?

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Wed, 27/10/2021 - 06:29

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Which one should I say in the following sentence?

My answer to your question is that...
My answer to your question would be that...

Hello Crokong,

Both forms are possible and commonly used. The form with 'would' is a little more tentative and, perhaps, polite; the form with 'is' is more direct.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, I don't really understand what you mean by "tentative". "Is" (more direct) sounds not polite, dorsn't it?

Submitted by Jembut on Fri, 22/10/2021 - 03:01

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How does "would" work in this sentence?

"I'm going to ___ bank/park/etc" needs an article, either a definite article "the" or an indefinite article "a or an" before the words for your destination. Saying "I'm going to bank" or "...to park" or "...to zoo", etc., <strong>would</strong> not be a good idea; such sentences don't mean anything.

If I say without "would", is it still correct and fits the situation?

Saying "I'm going to bank" or "...to park" or "...to zoo", etc., is not a good idea; such sentences don't mean anything.

Hello Jembut,

Yes, you can say 'Saying "I'm going to bank" is not a good idea' instead of 'Saying "I'm going to bank" would not be a good idea' but they are more or less appropriate depending on the situation. The first one is good as a general rule, whereas the second one is talking about an imaginary situation.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk. Thanks. I said this sentence to a native speaker "I want to write you this evening", then he replies 'it should be "write to you". In British English, it would be wrong to omit "to". My question: why is "would" used in "it would be wrong to omit "to"?" I believe it's also correct to say "it's". It's difficult for me to decide as to whether I should 'is' or 'would' in some situation.

In British English, it would be wrong to omit "a".
In British English, it's wrong to omit "to".

Hello Jembut,

In the situation you describe, I also prefer 'it's wrong' to 'it would be wrong', but it's OK to use 'would'.

By using 'would', the person you spoke might be trying to be polite. In British English, speaking about a hypothetical situation (even if we are really speaking about a current situation) is one way we make a sentence more polite.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Thu, 21/10/2021 - 08:52

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In the sentence "it would be...",, why is "would" used in this sentence? Is it OK if "would" be substituted with "is?" It is....

Question A: I've tied the knot for 42 years. It's incredible. The time pass so quickly. Is this sentence right?

Answer B: The expression "tie the knot" means to get married - the ceremony itself, so in your sentence it would be I/we tied the knot 42 years ago

Hi Jembut,

The speaker of answer B uses 'would' because the correction (i.e. 'I/we tied the knot 42 years ago') is not what person A actually said. That is, 'would' shows what the person hypothetically should have said at that time, but did not say in reality.

It would be less common to use 'is'. If you say 'in your sentence it is "I/we tied the knot ..."'), it's a bit confusing because actually, person A's sentence is NOT that. Person A's sentence is the original sentence (i.e., the incorrect version), not the corrected version.

But you could use 'is' if you rephrase the sentence a bit to clarify this, e.g. '... so in your sentence, the correct form is ...'. This is a more direct correction, compared to the 'would' version. It states the correct form in a clear and factual way. But because of this, it may seem too forceful or uncompromising (i.e. it sounds like the person is saying 'You must say this instead - this is the only acceptable answer'). The 'would' version makes the correction less direct, and may seem more polite for that reason.

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

Thanks,Jonathan. I see you use "would" in your sentence "It would be less commom to use "is". Could you explain why you use "would"?

Hi Jembut,

It's for the same reason that I mentioned above. I want to advise you not to use 'is' in that context, and I want to give my advice in a polite way (i.e., less directly than saying, for example, "Do not use 'is'" or "It is wrong to use 'is'" or "It is less common to use 'is'". These may sound too forceful or prescriptive). :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. I'm beginning to understand now. How about this sentence? Here is an explanation of my English grammar book about the word "rouse".

To rouse somebody is to wake them up, make them interested, make them excited etc.

It is extremely difficult to rouse my father in the mornings. (In an informal style, ... to wake my father up... <strong>would</strong> be much more natural.

There is a 'would' here. So why does the writer use it rather than "is"? Hypothetical or advise?

Hi Jembut,

Yes, it could be hypothetical. The actual sentence is "It is extremely difficult to rouse my father in the mornings". The version with "wake my father up" was not actually said in this example sentence, so we are just imagining it (i.e., it is hypothetical).

The use of "would" could also be to give advice. The writer is advising the reader not to use "rouse" in informal situations, and perhaps wants to avoid sounding too forceful or dogmatic.

These two meanings are not mutually exclusive, and in fact they often occur together.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. But it's also correct to use "is", isn't it? In an informal situation "...to wake my father up..." is much more natural. It's difficul for me to decide whether I should use "is" or "would" since both is interchangeable. So, could you explan in what situation I should use "is" or "would"?

In an informal situation, "...to wake my father up..." is much more natural.
In an informal situation, "...to wake my father up..." would be much more natural.

Hi Jembut,

Yes, it is also grammatically correct, and people do say that! It depends on the situation.

An important thing to understand here is that what is grammatically correct and what is acceptable or appropriate in a situation are two different things. Something can be grammatically correct but not appropriate in the particular situation. So, we need to understand the social norms of the situation (i.e., the purpose of the conversation, and the relationship between the speaker and listener) in order to decide which word is more appropriate. And, many times, both will be appropriate.

Your first sentence ("... is much more natural") uses the present tense, which is often used for rules or facts. If a speaker says this, he/she is presenting a rule of the language to the listener, and telling the listener to follow it. This may be totally fine in some situations (e.g., a teacher explaining rules to a class, or a parent teaching a child). But it may be inappropriate in other situations. If I don't know you well, for example, I might not want to tell you what to do directly. That might show you that I consider myself to be superior to you (i.e., I am right and you are wrong; you must do what I say). It may be embarrassing and impolite. That's what I meant in my previous messages when I wrote about sounding too forceful. Somebody may choose "would" in order to avoid this effect.

Also, to say "... is much more natural" is an absolute statement. It does not admit any possibility of a different opinion about what sounds natural - it simply states a rule that the listener must follow. However, different opinions are possible. People disagree about what is more natural - it involves subjective judgement. And there is a lot of variety in English usage around the world. Also, in reality, grammatical correctness is not the only factor in what we choose say. For example, people sometimes break grammar rules in order to make creative new expressions. If I simply give you a rule and tell you to follow it, it may oversimplify how people actually use language in real life.

Added to these reasons, in this particular example, as I mentioned before, the version with "wake my father up" was not actually said in the example sentence (i.e., it's a hypothetical version of the example). This also shows that the choice of "would" or "is" also depends on things said in the rest of the conversation (which is another aspect of the situation).

So in summary, I don't think it is possible to make a simple statement about when to use "is" or "would". The reason is that these words are not used only for their meaning or grammatical function. They are often chosen for a social function. So, when you choose which word to use, you should consider what level of politeness and directness is appropriate in the situation ("is" is more direct and possibly less polite; "would" is less direct and more polite). To decide this, you will need to consider the reason why you are communicating, what was said in the rest of the conversation, and your relationship with the other person.

Sorry to write so much but I hope it somehow helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Wow, thanks very much for the explanation, Jonathan. What a briliant expalanation. I really get it now. Very clear.

Submitted by Selet on Tue, 28/09/2021 - 00:25

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Does "would" mean "could be" in this sentence? To register a shot on target means to have a shot on target. In this example, United have not troubled the keeper - they have not had any shots on target. Another way of saying 'on target' would be 'on goal' - the team did not register a shot on goal.

Submitted by Crokong on Fri, 17/09/2021 - 13:12

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The game is today, but why is the speaker talking about an uneal situation? Shouldn't it use "will"? Why is "would" used? Good afternoon and welcome to Sports Mole's live commentary of the Premier League encounter between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United. The clash is crucial at both ends of the table, with Wolves currently sitting in the bottom three, while victory for United would move Sir Alex Ferguson's side four points clear of Manchester City at the summit.