'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,

Let's take a look at some examples.

  1. We absolutely should go to the beach today!
  2. Let's go to the beach today!
  3. Shall we go to the beach today?
  4. It would be nice to go to the beach today.
  5. It would be nice if we could perhaps go to the beach today.

All these sentences suggest the same thing (going to the beach). But can you feel some differences in style between them, and that some of them put more pressure on the reader/listener to agree or respond?

 

I've listed the sentences in order of directness (1 = most direct; 5 = least direct). In sentences 1 and 2, the suggestions are given quite flatly and simply. The reader/listener will feel some pressure to agree or respond. That's what's meant by 'direct'.

Sentences 4 and 5 are the opposite - they put relatively low pressure on the reader/listener to agree or respond. We might avoid putting pressure on, for example, if we want to show that we respect the reader/listener's authority (as with a manager at work, for example), or if we want to avoid seeming too demanding or pushy. The indirectness comes from the use of would, to present 'going to the beach' as a hypothetical action (i.e., not yet definitely possible or real; dependent on the reader/listener's agreement). Sentence 5 is even more indirect, using could and perhaps.

Sentence 3 is somewhere in the middle.

Does that help?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. Your explanation is very clear. I have example sentences that makes me a bit confused. If you moved your chair a bit, we could all sit down. It would be nice if you helped me with the homework. Are the sentences above also a less direct way?

Hi Crokong,

Yes, that's right! Some examples of more direct ways to say these things are Move your chair so we can all sit down and Help me with the homework.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Wed, 07/04/2021 - 11:01

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It will be a cat or it would be a cat? Which choice is right?

Hello Gendeng,

Both sentences are grammatically possible. Without a context there's no way to say which would be the better choice.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Wed, 31/03/2021 - 08:38

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Which one should I use "will" or "would" in the following sentence? A: Let me help you with your homework. B: That would/will be great.

Hello whitekrystal,

Here we typically say 'would'. There is nothing really grammatically wrong with 'will' here, and we use 'That will be great' in situations when we're talking about something more in the future. But here, where the help seems to be immediate, we say 'would'. I'm afraid I don't have a good explanation in terms of grammar; it's almost as if it's a fixed phrase we use to respond to offers in the moment.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Mon, 29/03/2021 - 10:53

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My grammar books says the modal verbs "would" and "could" also makes suggestions less direct. I thought it would be nice to have a picnic. We could ask Peter to help us. My question is what is "less direct"?

Hello Crokong,

It sounds to me as if your grammar book is describing how these forms can be used to speak more politely. One of the ideas behind politeness in English is that it is impolite to demand people to do things. But of course we need to ask people to do things for us very frequently, and so one important way of being polite is to make our requests less direct. One way to do this is to put your request in the form of a question -- instead of saying 'I want a cup of tea', I can say 'Can I have a cup of tea?' It's as if the other person could say no to our request, and in the logic of English, this is considerably more polite.

Another way of making a request or suggestion less direct is to use a verb form that emphasises possibility. Following the previous example, I could use 'could' instead of 'can' in my question: 'Could I have a cup of tea?' Using 'could' makes it sound as if my request is less urgent, and therefore imposes less on the person I'm asking. Often we call this 'being less direct' -- the fact that we make the request in a way that allows the other person to refuse (even if actually they cannot refuse) is considered more polite.

In the second example you ask about it, the same idea is at work. By saying 'could', we make this idea a suggestion rather than a command, which makes it less direct and therefore more polite. In the first example, using a past tense form also makes the request less immediate and so it's more polite than saying 'I think'.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk. Thanks for the explanation. By the way, what is the difference between the following? I think it would be nice to have a picnic. I would think it's nice to have a picnic.

Hello Crokong,

What do you think the differences could be? I'd encourage you to try to explain what you think the differences are, and then I can comment on your explanation.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Sat, 27/03/2021 - 12:46

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I like "will" when it is used to talk about typical behaviour, things that we often do. ;)

Submitted by Selet on Fri, 26/03/2021 - 17:35

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Sir, the writer/speaker says this sentence before the game begins: If Manchester United kept a clean sheet tonight, it would be their fouth in a row in the Premier league. If I won this race, I would buy a new car. But I think it'a also correct to say these sentences before the game: If Manchester United keep a clean sheet tonight, it will be... If I won this race, I will... I completely get it that the type first conditional is used to predict in this case. However, how about the type 2 conditional? What situation is it like? I'm confused because it can be used to express the future as well.

Hi Selet,

Yes, this is a commonly asked question! Have a look at this explanation and the full comment thread. I hope it helps to answer your question :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dwishiren on Fri, 19/03/2021 - 10:04

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I'm a bit condlfused. Can the type 2 conditional be used to make suggestions? For example. If you moved your chair a bit, we could all sit down. If you used this, it would suggest... I would appreciate you if you helped me. The sentences don't mean that you don't mave your chair/you don't use this/you don't help me.

Hello Dwishiren,

Yes, you can use conditional forms in this way.

If you move your chair, we'll all be able to sit down.

If you moved your chair, we'd all be able to (we could all) sit down.

The first example is more direct; the second more tentative and possibly more polite, depending on the situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Mon, 15/03/2021 - 07:29

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It would be better to paint it green. (= in reality, you don't plaint it green, so it's not better) It would be really great if you could fill out your biography. (= in reality, you don't fill out your biography, so it's not really great) Is my understanding right?

Hello Jembut,

Yes, that's correct. The implication in the second sentence in particular is that you might still do the task, so the statement is really functioning as a polite suggestion or request (Please fill out...).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sat, 13/03/2021 - 05:41

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Hi. I'm sure that "would" here means "will be possible." Because the goal hasn't happened. If it's goal, "will" will be used. What do you think? A second goal for United in these closing stages would make things very interesting.

Hello whitekrystal,

It's not about whether or not a goal has been scored: in both situations there has not been a goal. Rather, it's about how the speaker sees the situation. Using would suggests that a second goal is unlikely. Using will suggests that it is a genuine possibility.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again whitekrystal,

It's not that the second goal is or is not unlikely as a matter of fact; it's how the speaker sees it. If the speaker believes that a second goal is likely then they will use 'will'. If the speaker believes that a second goal is unlikely then they will use 'would'. Both are grammatically correct; the speaker chooses according to how they see the situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Tue, 09/03/2021 - 21:20

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Hello sir. In the sentence "it would be nice...", what does " would" mean? Questioner: What does 'probe down' mean in footbal context? Richarlison probes down the left and wins a corner off James. Answer: It would be nice to have a bit more context to work with here, but if it is something like a soccer / football game, the interpretation is clear.

Submitted by Selet on Mon, 08/03/2021 - 18:44

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In the sentence "it would be...", Could you tell me what "would" funtions? A. Is it "May I know who you are ?" or "May I know who are you?" Thanks! VB. The first one is correct. 'May I know who are you?' is not correct in standard British English; instead, it would be 'May I know who you are?'.

Hello Selet,

We use would to describe a hypothetical or imaginary situation. It's very common when a person is giving advice about a hypothetical situation, as opposed to a real situation which has occurred.

 

The correct form is 'May I know who you are?'

This is an example of an indirect question. You can read more about these here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/questions-and-negatives

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, could you explain more clearly what is meant by giving advice about a hypothetical situation? Give me another example so that I can understand it

Submitted by Basheer Ahmed on Thu, 04/03/2021 - 05:54

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Hello British Council Team, I am a little confused about how "Will" can be used for Present in the concept of Belief i.e: "John will be in his office."; could you please clarify it with more examples? Thank you.

Hello Basheer Ahmed,

We can use 'will' when we're certain or confident about a present situation. If I say 'John will be in his office', it means I'm quite sure that he is in his office. This could be because he is normally there at this time and I expect today to be normal, it could be that he told me he would be there, it could be that I've just spoken with him -- there are many different reasons I might be sure. Note that it's the speaker who decides if they are sure.

I could also say 'John must be in his office' or 'He has to be in his office' or 'I'm sure he's in his office' and they all mean much the same thing.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Jembut on Thu, 25/02/2021 - 14:14

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How does 'would' work here? It looks like it's a past form of will. What do you thing I'm right? Such a plain would bd disastrous. To ask Joe would be a big mistake.

Hell Jembut,

Your first sentence has several errors, but as far as would goes, both sentences describe hypothetical situations in the future. You can think of them as having impled if-clauses: if we did it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, you always say would used to talk about a hypothetical situation. I'm wondering what the word "hypothetical" actually mean?

Submitted by Gendeng on Thu, 25/02/2021 - 08:03

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Sir, you said 'would' can be used to make statements sound tentative. Here, tentative means not sure?
Hi Kirk, I want to ask. I will take your sentence here when you replied to another user's question. there is 'would' in the sentence. Does it mean tentative? In another words, would means not sure. In British English, plural verbs are often used with third person subjects that refer to a group of people, such as 'police', 'Manchester United', etc. In other varieties of English, such as American, singular verbs would be the correct form.

Hello Jembut,

I wouldn't use the term 'tentative' to describe the meaning here. Instead, I'd say 'hypothetical' -- it shows that I'm speaking about a hypothetical situation, i.e. a situation that is not real at the moment (American English instead of British English). It might help to imagine that the sentence as a kind of second conditional: 'If we were speaking American English, singular verbs would be the correct form.'

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Tue, 23/02/2021 - 18:58

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Dear sir. I'm just wondering whether would means possible in the following sentences? It's ambiguous on what it's used to talk about an unreal situation or to make suggestions sound less definite. I'm confused to determine that. 1. 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. 2. In British English, plural verbs are often used with third person subjects that refer to a group of people, such as 'police', 'Manchester United', etc. In other varieties of English, such as American, plural verbs would be the correct form

Submitted by Dwishiren on Mon, 22/02/2021 - 19:37

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Hello The Learn English Team. I have read this pages and you mention that we use past tense forms to make suggestions about what might happen in the future: If he came tomorrow, we could borrow his car. Shouldn't this sentence should be "if he come tomorrow, we can borrow his car"? We don't know yet whether he comes. Maybe he comes or he maybe not. Second, whats the difference between an unreal 'would' and 'would' used to make suggestions?

Submitted by Ashkan0_0 on Mon, 22/02/2021 - 17:41

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Hello teachers. In this phrase : "Normally she would have texted me as soon as arrived in Thailand" If the speaker intended to say something that would usually happen when he/she goes in Thailand, shouldn't he/she use simple present tense after 'Would'? I have learned that we can use 'Would' to express some activities that happened many times in the past, but does using "would + have + pp" which expresses the same idea? thank you

Hi Ashkan0_0,

Good question! Yes, the speaker could also say: Normally she would text me as soon as she arrived in Thailand. 'Text' in this sentence is the infinitive verb form (not the simple present tense).

If the speaker says Normally she would have texted me ..., there's a difference. It means not only that she would normally do that action (texting me), but emphasises that the action would have been completed on this occasion (or not completed, in this example), i.e. the speaker would have received her message by now (which it seems didn't happen).

You can find some more examples and exercises on our 'will have' and 'would have' page. 

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sun, 21/02/2021 - 04:08

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We can't all stay in a hotel. It would be very expensive. Is it correct to say 'We can't all stay in a hotel. It will be very expensive?' If so, what's the difference sir?

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sun, 21/02/2021 - 02:24

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Hi everyone. I have learnt the use of would where If I say 'if had her address, I would tell you', it means I don't have her adress, so I cannot tell you. Well, in the sentence 'that would be amazing in the living room', does it means the same thing as above where this means 'that isn't amazing in the living room'? 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.

Hello whitekrystal,

Both the sentence about the address and the sentence about the vase speak about a hypothetical or imaginary situation. In the first one, I don't have the address, but speak about what I would do if I did have it. In the second one, the man imagines having the vase in their living room and speaks about that imaginary situation.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Sat, 20/02/2021 - 05:39

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Hi teachers. In the sentence "...would mean...", how does 'would' work? Questioner: Should I use 'can' or 'could' in the following sentence? If I had superpowers, I "could" or "can" teleport to different places in a second, and I "could" or "can" save the world. Answer: Use "could" where it means would be able to. 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,

The author uses 'would mean' here as they are seeing the situation as an imaginary situation. They say that 'could' is the correct answer so this is the 'real' (likely) choice. 'Can' is incorrect so it is not the likely choice, assuming the student wishes to avoid errors. Thus 'would' is used.

You can imagine a hidden if-clause in the sentence: if you were to use 'can', it would mean...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter M. Can I say without 'would', and only say 'can in this sentence means be able to'?

Hello again Crokong,

I'm not sure what you mean. Please post the original sentence and your alternative and we'll be happy to comment.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Petter. You said 'if you were to use 'can', it would mean..., my question: is this a unreal (impossible) situation or a conditional form used to make suggestions less definite? I'm a bit confused

Hello again Crokong,

'If you were to use...' describes a hypothetical or unlikely situation. It has a similar meaning to 'If you used...'

The reason I used this form is that I don't think you will use 'can' since it is incorrect. It's not impossible, but you would only do it if you want to make a mistake, which is unlikely.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Thu, 18/02/2021 - 06:24

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Sir, I'm confused in which condition I should say: If I know her address, I will tell you. If I knew her address, I would tell you.

Hello Plokonyo,

Both sentences refer to the present and future. The difference is that the first first sentence (know - will) describes a real or possible situation and the second (knew - would) describes a situation which is purely hypothetical or extremely unlikely in the speaker's view.

 

You can read more about these constructions on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/conditionals-1

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/verbs-in-time-clauses-and-if-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team