'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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Hi Gendeng,

Compare these two sentences:

  • Referring to “The United” is the equivalent of referring to “The West Ham”
  • Referring to “The United” would be the equivalent of referring to “The West Ham”

The writer of this sentence seems to be answering a question from somebody else.

In the first sentence, the present simple states the misunderstanding clearly and factually. But that might be too direct because it clearly shows that the person who said 'The United' was wrong. It could be embarrassing.

In the second sentence, using would is less direct because using would frames the situation of saying this as just an imagined (not real) situation, i.e. the mistake of saying 'The United' is not necessarily one that happened or happens in real life.

Best regards,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. So, "would" in this sentence makes suggestion less direct, and so more polite, isn't it? Can we also say the sentence with an implied if-clause? If you refer to 'The United', it would be the equivalent of referring to 'The West Ham"

Hi Gendeng,

Yes, that's right, and yes - we can also say it using the if clause, as you suggested (but in your example the clause is stated, not implied). That also makes the suggestion less direct and more polite.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Jonathan. In the sentence "if you referred to 'The United', it would be the equivalent of referring to 'The West Ham', in reality, you don't refer to 'the United', so it's not the equivalenf of referring to 'the West Ham'. It looks weird, I think. My book says type 2 conditional can make setences less definite/less direct/less likely and can therefore have a nuance of politness. So, I can say: If you used this word, it would mean... If I said X if 1 wrote that sentence. In my sentences above those can happen in the future, can't they? It's a slight remoter possibility. It doesn't mean the same as a conditional form stating something that doesn't happen or is impossible such as: If I had lots of money, I would buy a big house with a garden. (= I don't have lots of money, so this doesn't happen) If I were a bird, I could ear worms. (= this is impossible) Is my understanding right?

Hi Gendeng,

The sentence could mean either of those things: (1) that saying that incorrect sentence is possible but unlikely to happen (i.e. unlikely because the grammar is incorrect), or (2) that saying that sentence is impossible. Meaning 2 is from the point of view of normative grammar use. Both of these meanings make sense in the context of what this person is trying to say, i.e. to advise people not to refer to 'the United', and they both sound polite, as you mentioned.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Wed, 10/02/2021 - 06:41

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Sir, in this conversation, this is clearly showing a real situation which is John is coming to visit, but why use "would"? Shouldn't the sentence instead be "a hotel will be too expensive". John is coming to visit. He could stay with us. A hotel would be too expensive.

Hi whitekrystal,

Right, John's coming to visit is a real action. But the comments about the hotel are separate from that action (coming to visit), and where John will stay is not yet confirmed (i.e. the speaker is speaking hypothetically). Using would shows that the speaker is imagining the cost of the hotel. It's like saying: A hotel would be too expensive if we booked one for him, so let's not do that.

You're right, they could also use will and say a hotel will be too expensive. This meaning of will is to say what you think will happen in the future. It emphasises (more than using would) that you are quite certain that the hotel will be too expensive. 

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Wed, 10/02/2021 - 03:35

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Hi sir. I have learnt 'would' used to talk about a future situation is impossible. Six o'clock would be a good time to meet. In this sentence, it means a good time is impossible to meet six o'clock. So 'would' means impossible. In my understanding right?

Hi whitekrystal,

Would is often used to show a hypothetical situation (e.g. I would give you a lift, but my wife has the car today). Is that what you mean by an impossible situation?

If you say Six o'clock would be a good time to meet, yes - it could be a hypothetical situation that isn't possible. But we would need to add more information to show that, e.g. Six o'clock would be a good time to meet, but there's no meeting room available at that time.

But in your sentence, it's more likely that the speaker uses would simply for politeness. Using would makes the speaker sound polite because the suggestion of the meeting time is hypothetical (i.e. the meeting time is not yet confirmed, and the meeting will happen only if the other person confirms that six o'clock is OK). The speaker isn't forcefully stating what time to meet.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. In your sentence, you say 'would need', so what does 'would' mean? Second, can I say 'six o'clock will be a good time to meet' if the meeting time is yet confirmed? Is there not a difference?

Hi whitekrystal,

I said we would need to add more information (to show that it is an impossible situation) using would, because I think that is an unlikely situation (i.e. I don't think it's likely that the speaker means that meeting at 6 o'clock is impossible). 

Yes, you could say six o'clock will be a good time to meet, using will. But as a suggestion, this is more forceful and may be less polite than using would. Using would is less forceful and more polite, because by presenting the meeting time as hypothetical, the speaker shows that he/she wants to hear the other person's opinion about it (i.e. it's hypothetical because it depends on the other person's confirmation). Using will doesn't give that idea of wanting to hear from the other person.

It's tricky, but I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. I'm still unclear. In your sentence 'would need', is there an implied if-clause? But we would need to add more information if it were an impossible situation (in reality, my sentence "six o'clock would be a good time to meet" expresses a politeness). Is my understanding right? In the sentence 'would need", does the 'would' state an unreal situation or make suggestions or perhaps tentative?

Hi whitekrystal,

Yes, that's right. Also, yes: we would need to add more information is an unreal situation. You can understand it as having an implied if clause as well: ... if the speaker really meant that meeting at 6 o'clock was impossible. It is tentative, because would shows that the suggestion is conditional on us knowing exactly what the speaker wanted to say in this situation.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 05:45

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Hello. I read comments on this page and I see Peter M using "would" in the sentences "I would not use..." and "another, very polite, alternative would be this". My question is how does " would" work in this context? Questiner: Could you please let me know which one below is correct? Situation: at the end of a business email 1. I hope this helps. 2. I hope it helps. 3. Hope this helps. 4. Hope it helps. 5. I hope this helps you. Any difference? And why? Peter M. replied: All of those are grammatically possible, though (2) is rather awkward and I would not use that one. It's really a question of style and appropriacy. For a business letter a formal style is generally preferable, so I would suggest that (5) and (1) are the best choices. The others are rather informal so should be avoided unless the letter is intended to be informal. Another, very polite, alternative would be this: I hope this is helpful to you. Please let me know if you need anything else/anything more.

Hello Plokonyo,

'Would' is used to indicate politeness in several ways. It describes hypothetical situations and so has a more tentative meaning than alternative forms, meaning it is less direct and so more polite:

What do you want? [very direct]

What would you like? [tentative, less direct, more polite]

 

You can often see would as being part of a conditonal using an implied unreal/unlikely if-clause. This is another way to make the sentence more tentative and hence more polite:

I would not use... (if I were in this situation)

another, very polite, alternative (if you wanted one) would be this

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Mon, 08/02/2021 - 07:45

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My friend is working and I would like to give him a question like the following. In this situation, should I use "will" or "would"? What will/would you do if you are/were fired from your job?

Hello Gendeng,

You could use 'will' and 'are' or 'would' and 'were'. If you used 'will' and 'are', it would suggest that her firing is more likely or possible -- perhaps she's already been warned this could happen, for example.

If you used 'would' and 'were', her firing is seen as more imaginary, so it would seem less likely.

Note that it is the speaker's perception of the situation that determines which form should be used.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk. You said: If you used "will" and "are", it would suggest ... If you used " would" and "were", it would suggest ... Why did't you say "if you use ..., it will suggest ...?"

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sun, 07/02/2021 - 03:08

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Hi everyone. The use 'would' in this sentence is used to talk about an unreal situation or not sure? I want to write in great lenght to you, but I'm afraid I would be a bother to you this evening.

Hi whitekrystal,

Yes, that's right. There is an implied condition here which is not stated: ...but I'm afraid if I did so I would be a bother to you...

 

However, there are a couple of problems with the sentence. First, there is a spelling error (it should be length not *lenght). Second, the verb 'want' does not agree with 'would' here. 'Want' suggests a real situation, while 'would' suggests a hypothetical one. I think you need either to say want...will or wanted...would:

  1. I want to write in great length to you, but I'm afraid I will be a bother to you this evening.
  2. I wanted to write in great length to you, but I'm afraid I would be a bother to you this evening.

In sentence 1, the person wrote a long text and is apologising in advance. In sentence 2, the person did not write a long text and is explaining why.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Tea

Submitted by Gendeng on Sun, 31/01/2021 - 17:44

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What will you do if you miss the train? Shouldn't this sentence be 'what would you do if missed the train?' We are imagining

Hello Gendeng,

Both sentences are possible.

 

If the speaker thinks there is a real chance of the person missing a real train then the will use will... miss. For example, they may be speaking to someone who has a train soon and think that it is already very late.

 

On the other hand, if the speaker is talking purely hypothetically or thinks that it is very unlikely to happen then would... missed is the correct option.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Thu, 28/01/2021 - 07:24

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Hi everyone. Could you explain how 'would' works in the following sentence? Life would be quieter without telephone.

Hi Plokonyo,

The sentence is not quite grammatical. It should be either of these:

Life would be quieter without the telephone.

Life would be quieter without telephones.

 

Would here expresses a hypothetical sense. It tells us that we are talking about a situation which is not real but rather imaginary.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter. Would you explain what you mean by "...talking about a situation which is not real but rather imaginary?"

Submitted by Dwishiren on Fri, 22/01/2021 - 15:29

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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"?

Hello Dwishiren,

We often use 'would' to make polite requests because it speaks about a more imaginary situation. The more imaginary the situation is, the less the speaker imposes that situation on the person they are speaking to. So, in general, saying 'will' implies that the help is expected more than if you say 'would', and this forcefulness is considered less polite. In English, the less forceful your request is, the more polite it is considered.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Tue, 19/01/2021 - 15:15

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I'd guess earthquakes will happen. ;)

Submitted by Emon mia on Tue, 19/01/2021 - 10:23

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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

Submitted by Crokong on Mon, 11/01/2021 - 05:05

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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

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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