'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 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

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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Mon, 04/01/2021 - 14:26

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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"

Hello Rafaela1,

Yes, they are quite polite. You might use them, for example, when you've met a native speaker who is older than you and whom you want to impress -- what comes to mind is the grandfather or grandmother of a friend, but there are of course many other situations, including ones where you're discussing a topic but aren't sure the facts that you mention are correct or not.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Kirk! Your comment helps a lot, I would believe... ;)

Submitted by epicure on Mon, 04/01/2021 - 06:54

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There is this following two part sentence, Send a fax to the hotel. He ________ left the home by now. what should come in the blank would or will?

Hi epicure,

I'd use will have. We use will have to look back from the present moment to a past action that we are sure has happened. Have a look at our page on Will have and would have for more explanation and examples. I hope it helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello epicure,

Please don't post a question more than once. I have deleted your second post in which you ask this same question. It can take us some time to answer comments and posting them twice slows everything down.

Thanks in advance!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by erkartar on Mon, 07/12/2020 - 06:34

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There is one sentence above."We had a terrible night. The baby wouldn't go to sleep". Can this sentence be like this? we had a terrible night. The baby did not sleep.

Hello erkartar,

You can use the past simple here (did not) but most would choose to use would. The reason is that would implies that something went wrong or did not function as we wanted rather  than simply expressing a past fact: the baby did not want to sleep/refused to go to sleep.

 

We often talk about difficult situations like this, even when we are talking about inanimate objects:

The car wouldn't start.

My computer wouldn't open the file.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by AfnaNtheMan on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 18:36

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Hello team, 'If you watch it, your eyes will be gone'. Is this sentence correct?

Hello AfnaNtheMan,

This sentence is grammatically correct, but I must say I don't really understand what it means. If you're speaking about a phenomenon that would ruin your eyes (for example, the sun during an eclipse), I'd suggest 'look at' instead of 'watch'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Via on Tue, 20/10/2020 - 08:39

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Hello team, The conditionals and hypotheses are confusing. How to differentiate conditionals and hypothesis? I also noticed that 'would' could be used in both hypotheses and conditionals, when should I use 'will' and 'would'? Thanks a lot.
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Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 08:47

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Sir, I could not find a relevant section for my question - so it is here : This is regarding the case of first letter after a colon. Sometimes I see capital letter after a colon , many times it is a small case letter. What is the correct grammar for this - please guide. Regards

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.