'will' and 'would'

Learn about the modal verbs will and would and do the exercises to practise using them.

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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Hi dipakrgandhi,

In British English we use a lower case letter after a colon. This changes, of course, if the first word after the colon is a proper noun (e.g. London).

In American English, a capital letter is often used after a colon when the part after the colon is a complete sentence.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by LitteBlueGreat on Mon, 12/10/2020 - 12:43

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Hello.. recently I've got confused on this word order i found on website... "Right, I said, shivering at this recital as a man would who gets hysterical while taking a shower if a bit of soap stings his eye" Here i wondered why "adjective clause come after Would at sentence above?" for this time i have been thinking it is just wrong order of sentence... or that is maybe part of style in english? thank you
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 04:14

In reply to by LitteBlueGreat

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Hi LitteBlueGreat,

It's an interesting example! Would refers to the verb earlier in the sentence (i.e. would shiver). 

 

The position of would is a bit unusual. But, other ways to phrase the sentence may not be better. For example, we could write it like this:

  1. ... shivering at this recital as a man who gets hysterical while taking a shower would if a bit of soap stings his eye.
  2. ... shivering at this recital as a man who gets hysterical while taking a shower if a bit of soap stings his eye would.

 

Both these options are more standard grammatical usage. But, the first one isn't ideal because would interrupts the description of taking a shower and getting soap on one's eye. It makes sense to avoid this interruption.

 

The second one is also not perfect, since the relative clause (who gets hysterical ... stings his eye) is very long and separates the subject (a man) far from the verb (would). The reader has to keep a lot of information in mind in order to understand the sentence.

 

So, although the original sentence may not follow standard grammar, readers can still make sense of it, so it could be the best option for the writer's purpose. For a writer, communicating the meaning may be more important than grammatical accuracy - especially in fiction writing. (Does this sentence come from fiction?)

 

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

I am not sure because i found it on Japanese-English Dictionary 1. Could i please get the rewriting of where is "Would" commonly placed if we use standar conditional grammar? 2. then again, did "shivering at the recital" take role as main clause of conditional "if a bit of soap stings his eye"? or on the contrary, the main clause related to "if" is "man who gets hysterical"?

Hi LitteBlueGreat,

Actually, it's not a conditional meaning. There's no condition (if clause) stated or implied, and would doesn't have the hypothetical meaning that it has in conditional sentences (see "Hypotheses and conditionals" section above).

So, what's the meaning of would here? It shows typical behaviour in the past (see the "Willingness" section above). The sentence means that a man usually or typically shivered when soap stung his eye, and the speaker shivered in the same way.

It's quite a complicated sentence! Does it make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Just about, there is just any little problem i need time to understand however it is big help... thank you very much

Submitted by rosario70 on Sun, 04/10/2020 - 16:40

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Good afternoon i noticed another strange sentence : If not having i could not have got that achievement, is there any part implied at beginning , isn't it? and what is it? I would not to like to make a profit of your kindness but i do hope you 'll be able to make it clear to me. Thanks in advance.

Hello rosario70,

I'm afraid I don't understand your question. If you're asking a question about a specific sentence, could you please put the question inside quotation marks (") or inverted commas (')?

Thanks in advance.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Good morning, i say sorry for not being clear : 1) if not having your support i couldn't have got that achievement . I'd write it in the following way " if i had not got your support i couldn't have got that achievement". I'd like to know what type of sentence is the 1 and why was it written that way? i hope i was clear this time. Greetings.

Hi rosario70,

Thanks, now I understand your question. I'm afraid I can't explain the sentence you ask about ('If not having your support I couldn't have got that achievement') because it is not correct. If it's something you heard, it could be that the speaker changed their mind as they were speaking and so it came out like this. 

Your version of the sentence is grammatically correct. If you're interested, what I'd probably write is 'I couldn't have achieved that without your support'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rosario70 on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 19:31

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Good evening teachers, recently watching an interview , i noticed any strange sentences shown as it follows: 1) If sonny would have lost one of sit-downs i would have got killed; it seems to me it to be incorrect then again i listened to it carefully. Can you explain this odd use of would in american english? they may use it in "spoken english" 2) If he did not use the media as a shield he wolud have got killed ; noticed still in the interview ; may this work ? Thanks in advance

Hello rosario70,

It's not standard English (whether in the US or elsewhere) to use would have after if, so the first example you provide is not one I would draw conclusions from in terms of grammar. Remember that language is often used in non-standard ways. People makes mistakes or may have a particular dialect which is non-standard outside of their region or community.

Your second sentence is also non-standard. Since the killing was in the past you would need to use If he had not used... for the condition here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Harry de ZHANG on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 07:13

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Dear LearnEnglish Team, I have a question about this example sentence: 'You would lose weight if you took more exercise.' Can I use say it this way: You will loose weight if you take more exercise. To me, it sounds like a future conditional more than hypothesis. Because you bound to loose some weight if you work hard. Unless you don't take it seriously, or you're talking about the past. In that case, wouldn't it be better if I said it as "You would've lost weight if you took more exercise?" Meanwhile, I'd like to point out an error in the quiz section, If I may. In "Expression with would 2," the 9th question has the same second half as the 8th question, and that makes no sense for the question.

Hi Harry de ZHANG,

Interesting question!

What you suggested makes sense: you will lose weight if you take more exercise / you're bound to lose some weight if you work hard. These are both first conditionals, meaning that the speaker thinks the situation is a realistic possibility. 

But the sentence in the 'Hypotheses' section above has a different meaning. It means we think the whole situation is unlikely to happen, including the cause (working hard). Will this person actually take more exercise and work hard? The verb forms (You would lose weight if you took more exercise) show that the speaker doubts that this person will work hard in the first place. It's not just commenting on what the result of working hard may be.

So, both versions of the sentence are correct and meaningful. Which one a speaker uses depends on how likely they think the whole situation is. Does that make sense?

You're right, question 9 in the exercise wasn't right. I'll edit the exercise now. Thanks a lot :)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan, Thanks for the explanation. Now I'm clear with what the example sentence really meant. You're a big help!
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 14:34

In reply to by Harry de ZHANG

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That's great, Harry :)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

Submitted by pathi on Sun, 13/09/2020 - 17:07

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Hiii sir... please clarify this doubt.. "If I won the lottery i would buy a car." In the above sentence I know that I am not going to win the lottery so it is an imagination.now suppose If I feel that I am going to win the lottery even there is very less chance to win in reality, and I am not sure to buy a car...(I mean my preference may be changed after winning the lottery) In this situation can i say like " If I win the lottery I would buy a car"..plz explain it sir

Hi pathi,

Yes, using If I win ... (first conditional) shows that you see this as a realistic possibility. But if you are not sure about buying a car, I would use might here. Might shows uncertainty.

  • If I win the lottery, I might buy a car.

If you say ..I would buy a car, it means that you are sure about doing this (if the condition, i.e. winning the lottery, is fulfilled).

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Sat, 12/09/2020 - 16:56

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Hello all. How does "would" work here? It would be nice to have barbecue. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

Hello Gendeng,

It's hard to say without knowing the context in which the sentence appears. It could be a suggestion about the future or a statement of regret about something which is not possible, for example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lucas_xpp on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 18:26

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Hello English Team 1) [Knock on door] That will be the plumber [Could I say must?] 2) There is somebody coming up the stairs. That will be Mary. [Could I say must?] 3) Rachel is in Turkey at the moment. I hope she has taken some winter clothes because it won't be warm at this time of year. [Could I say ...it is not warm...?] Appreciate your help.

Submitted by StoneHead1 on Sun, 06/09/2020 - 06:06

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Dear Team, First of all, I appreciate this site and team that are helpful to English learners and your effort for all these. I read most of threads here, and am leaving this for clarifications. The word, "would" must be tricky -- every dictionary explains it in all different ways and here we see another way judging it as "hypothetical." If my understanding is correct, your definition of hypercritical is "likely less than 50%," never greater than 50% in all your explanations (I am not mentioning when it is used as politeness or requests). And my questions are: 1) Does the rule applies to both UK and US? 2) Will all natives in UK and US agree or be innate to the usage? 3) Suppose that English natives in general may not use under that rule, like natives in any languges don't have a perfect command in their own in grammatical sense or else. Does all the writers in UK or US newpapers correctly write under the rule? 4) What will be a word to express, say, about "51% to 70%" likely? I think that you aggreed that "will" is somehow too strong when I read threads, so I guest it will be, say, "70% to 90%(or 100%)." Will "should" be the word, or what would you sugggest? The reason for all these questions is that if "would" is "less than 50% likely," I must have misunderstood all the readings and spoken or written all the wrongs to make my audiences confused for all those years - I understood and used "would" as "51% to 70%," which has convinced me from dictionaies usually havong more that ten meanings, so I am now pretty much baffled. If you ask for context to explain all those,I would suggest Collins dictionary that will be good context basis to discuss. I am sorry for these long questions but I feel like all those years of studying English looks futile now when I found this new kind of approach to "would." Please help me.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 06/09/2020 - 08:14

In reply to by StoneHead1

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Hello Stonehead1,

Would has many uses, but if we are talking about its use to describe hypothetical situations then I think seeing it as having a less than 50% likelihood in the speaker's view is accurate, and this is the same in the UK and the US, and everywhere else in the English-speaking world as far as I am aware.

 

There are some things to bear in mind, however.

First, remember that this is a subjective assessment. In other words, it is how the speaker sees the action, not how likely it really is. If I am a mad optimist then I may think my chances of winning a lottery are very high, even if they are extremely low in reality.

Second, remember that it is not the action that is unlikely per se, but the condition which causes it. For example:

1. If she said sorry, I'd forgive her.

2. I would tell you not to take the job.

In the first sentence, the forgiving is certain if the condition is met. However, the condition (that she says sorry) is unlikely in the speaker's eyes.

In the second sentence, the condition is implied: if you asked me. It is this condition which is unlikely: I would tell you not to take the job, if you asked me (but I know you won't ask me).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I appreciate your reply. I would ask one unanswered question (assuming all yes for 1),2),3) ) and one follow-up. 1) What will be a word to express, say, about "51% to 70%" likely? I think that you agreed that "will" is somehow too strong when I read threads, so I guest it will be, say, "70% to 90%(or 100%)." Will "should" be the word, or what would you suggest? 2) This is one of list of definitions for "would" from Collins Dictionary. 4. Modal Verb: You use would, or would have with a past participle, to indicate that you are assuming or guessing that something is true, because you have good reasons for thinking it. You wouldn't know him. His fans would already be familiar with Caroline. That would have been Della's car. He made a promise to his great-grandfather? That would have been a long time ago. It was half seven; her mother would be annoyed because he was so late. According to the definition here, the second example sentence, "His fans would already be familiar with Caroline," will mean (James' fans knew that Caroline is James' girlfriend, so from the news that James will marry,) his fans would already be familiar with Caroline (now.) How can this definition and example sentence fit into "hypothetical"?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 11/09/2020 - 08:04

In reply to by StoneHead1

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Hello StoneHead1,

No, the reply is not being discussed or delayed. We are a small team here and it sometimes takes us some time to reply. Please be patient - we will get around to replying but there are other comments ahead in the queue. Posting reminders to us only delays the process.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again StoneHead1,

1) I don't think you can put percentages on words in this way. More likely than not vs less likely than not is the distinction; anything more specific than this really subjective and a question of style and rhetoric, and can be expressed though lexical choice, intonation, facial expression etc.

2) In my earlier answer I began by saying 'Would has many uses...'. Expression hypothetical meaning is one use, but there are others, as outlined on this page. The Collins definition/explanation/summary is an example of a different use. Of course, there is often an underlying concept which ties the various uses together, but languages develop organically so that the way a word is used may be quite far from its original conceptual root.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi The reason my prior reply was deleted seems well to explain the identity of this site and your unethical writing. Very disappointing. Please educate right.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 09:04

In reply to by StoneHead1

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Hello Stonehead1,

Your comment was read and considered. It was not published in the comments section because it was not a language-related comment, but rather a message to the team who run the site.

 

As I said, we are a small team here at LearnEnglish providing a service free of charge for many users around the world. It sometimes takes a few days to answer questions and we ask only for patience from our users.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 10:13

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Hi everyone. What does "would" mean in the sentence "...would mean"? A: If I had superpowers, I "could" or "can" teleport to different places in a second, and I "could" or "can" save the world. So, should I use “could” or “can”? B: Good question. Use could: “ … or in the result clause, where it means would be able to.” “If I had superpowers, I could teleport to different places in a second, and I could save the world!” You are imagining an unreal situation. "Can" in this sentence would mean “be able to,” and you aren’t able to do the things in your sentences!

Hello Crokong,

I'm afraid I'm not sure I understand all of your questions. I'll answer what I can, but please ask again if I've missed something.

In A, 'could' is correct and 'can' is not. This is because you are clearly talking about an imaginary or hypothetical situation ('If I had ...' shows this), and in such a situation, you need to use 'would' or 'could' in the other clause.

As I stated earlier, 'can' is not correct when speaking about an unreal situation.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk, I'm sorry for the confusion. In the sentence "Can" in this sentence would mean “be able to", why is the word "would" used here?

Hello Crokong,

I'm sorry, but I don't understand your question. Could you please first write out the complete the sentence you are asking about, then tell me which word or phrase you are asking about, and then ask the question about it.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Sun, 30/08/2020 - 10:47

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Hello. I'm wondering why the if-clause in the following doesn't use a past form as a second condtional? And how does "would" work? It would help if you give an axample sentence. It’ll be many decades before we see a Premier League title race with such a dramatic finish, though the quality wasn’t always that high. Both sides did a Devon Loch at different stages. I’d be surprised if that happens this year. Shouldn't the sentence be: It would help if you gave an example sentence. I would be surprised if that happened this year.

Hello Gendeng,

I'm not sure where these sentences are from, but if they are things you heard native speakers say, they're probably just mistakes -- when we speak, we often change our thinking as we speak and so we sometimes use non-standard forms. You can even find non-standard forms such as these in writing, but I wouldn't take them as models.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 07:09

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Hi everyone. How does "would" work in this sentence? A: I heard a comentator saying "picture book goal", then what does "picture book" mean in fooball? B: Well, if something is ‘picture book’ it suggests that it is something very beautiful – maybe almost perfect – and so a ‘picturebook goal’ would be a beautiful goal. Thanks
Hi Crakong '... so a ‘picturebook goal’ would be a beautiful goal.' The speaker uses 'would' in this sentence to talk about something hypothetical or imaginary. They are probably thinking something like: '... if someone said 'a picturebook goal' it would mean a beautiful goal'. Speaker B uses this hypothetical structure because 'a picturebook goal' is not a very common phrase. They are saying that you're not likely to hear the phrase but if someone did say that, it would mean 'a beautiful goal'. Best wishes Jo LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dwishiren on Mon, 24/08/2020 - 16:32

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Hello sir. Does the use of the conditional "would" here give advice? I read Peter's explanation here and say: "Will" would be used if the situation were real". I have learnt conditional sentences like "If I knew, I would tell you" (the fact at present: he/she doesn't know). Is it the same as this explanation? "Will" would be used if the situation were real. (The fact at present: "will" is not used).

Hello Dwishiren,

My explanation describes a hypothetical situation, similar to the conditional form you mention: If you used this, it would mean...

It's quite common for the if-clause to be omitted like this:

I'd phone him and explain the problem (if I were you).

She'd be very happy (if you invited her)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter M. So, the sentence: "If you used this, it would mean...", In reality, you don't use this. Am I right? "Will" would be used if the sentence was real". In reality, the sentence was not real. Am I right? I'd phone him and explain the problem (if I were you). In reality, I'm not you. She'd be very happy (if you invited her). In reality, you don't invite her.
Thanks, Peter M. I'm still unclear about the sentence "will" would be used if the sentence was real", why not say "will" will be used if the sentence is real"? "If you used this, it would mean...", Does it mean that we don't know whether you use or not, we're just imagining the possibility

Hello Dwishiren,

You could use will to give advice like this. I chose would because I imagine we're describing a hypothetical situation. If you asked me about what you should say during a meeting tomorrow then I would use will because we would be talking about a real situation and not just speaking hypothetically.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Hayder991 on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 04:17

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Hey, Would anyone of our best teachers in this amazing website tell me what's the difference between a real and a hypothetical situation in more details please cause that's the key to understanding the difference between will and would .? Does a real situation mean that it is planned situations in real life so we use 2nd conditional regardless of the possibility of them happening or not ? I've heard that for imagined situations and would , It's not that they are possible or impossible -- it's that we are showing that we aren't thinking of them as real situations, at least for the moment. what does that mean please?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 09:04

In reply to by Hayder991

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Hello Hayder991,

Real in this context means something that we consider possible, likely or plausible.

Unreal means the opposite.

 

Sometimes the choice is clear:

If I were a dog, I'd spend all day in the garden.

I'm not a dog and so this is clearly an unreal situation!

When I finish, I'll give you a call.

I know at some point I'll finish, so it's just a question of time.

 

Sometimes the choice is a question of perspective:

If I win the lottery, I'll buy a new house.

I'm an optimist. I think there's a chance of this.

If I won the lottery, I'd buy a new house,

I don't see this as a realistic possibility.

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter, Here are some situations in which " would " was used instead of "will". would you please clear it up for me? 1- A man with his wife in the shopping Mall doing some shopping and he sees a nice looking vase for sale, so he says to his wife "wow, that would be amazing in the living room. 2- this conversation from a movie: A- How much longer are you in this motel? B- 2 weeks. A-you now the offer still stands, my house doors always open to you and your family. B- you're very generous but there are five of us, we wouldn't do that to you and your honey. 3- a student asking his teacher to do a lesson in grammar so he says: It would be great to make a video about embedded clauses. 4- this dialogue between 2 friends: A : Are you ok? What's going on with you?. Anything I could do to help? B- you konw what, A cup of coffee would be much appreciate it right now. A-That's it , you could have mine. it's over there on the table. 5- I don't think Danny would ever steal from the company. I think he's being setup. Thank you very much in advance for your help...

Hello Hayder991,

In situations 1, 2, 3 and 5, 'would' is used to speak about a hypothetical or unreal situation. In other words, they are situations that the speaker is imagining. Situation 4 is similar and note how 'would' is used to make an indirect (and therefore polite) request here.

In the future, could you please tell us what you think about each of these, and then we can confirm them for you? Think of it as an opportunity for you to try to make sense of the sentences using the explanations on the page.

Thanks in advance for your understanding.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Akihiko520 on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 18:42

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Hi, Sentence 1:It would be wrong to describe society purely in economic terms. Sentence 2: The slightest sound would break his concentration. For these two sentences, could I use the simple present tense? Sentence 3: I think that getting a job would give him his pride back. For Sentence 3, could I use the simple future tense (will)? Thanks for your help teachers.