'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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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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Hello Jembut,

I think the word should be 'plan' rather than 'plain' here.

 

Without knowing the full context in which the sentence is used it's hard to be sure. However, perhaps you can answer your own question! You can see the context and we've given you a lot of explanations of the various uses of would in answers to various questions. Perhaps you can suggest how you think would is being used here and we'll tell you if we agree.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I think would is used to sound less direct or a past form of will. In other words, the speaker is not sure about the plan. I suppose that "is" and "will" is also corrrect here. Is my understanding right?

Hello again Jembul,

I think that's a good analysis. The speaker does not expect the plan to become reality and is effectively saying 'If we did this, it would be disastrous'.

 

As you say, you could use 'will' here. This would signify that the speaker expects the plan to become reality. You could also use 'is'. This would signify that the plan is already reality and the speaker is assessing its effects.


Well done!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sat, 21/08/2021 - 00:32

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The following sentence is from my grammar book. What is meant by "definite enquiry" and "less difinite, more hesitant enquiry" in the use "will" and "would"? Will you be able to babysit tomorrow night (definite enquiry) Would you be able to babysit tomorrow night (less definite, more hesitant enquiry)

Hello whitekrystal,

These are both requests. Will in requests is more direct than would. When we use would we are telling the other person that we understand that there is a chance they will refuse, so it is more tentative and generally more polite. Effectively would tells the other person that you will understand if they cannot help us.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Wed, 18/08/2021 - 03:54

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Hello all. What is the meaning of would here? The verb "to float" in football is used to describe a ball in the air that is not moving so fast. To float a ball into the penalty area would be to cross the ball in the air – but maybe without much power behind it. If the ball floats wide of the post it means that the attempt (a header) missed as it lacked direction and power. Tuesday would suit me very well for a meeting

Hello Jembut,

It's possible to define a word using facts from the real world (breaking the speed limit is driving faster than the law allows) or by imagining a situation (breaking the speed limit would be driving 110 km/h in a place where the law allows only 90 km/h). Your first example is a hypothetical situation of this type.

 

In your second example 'would' is used to add a degree of politeness. You could use 'will' insread, but the sentence would be more direct then.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter M. You used "would" in your sentence, what does it mean? If I use "is", is it wrong? You could use 'will' instead, but the sentence would be more direct then. You could use 'will' insread, but the sentence is more direct then.

Hello again Jembut,

Would here has a hypothetical meaning - I am talking about a sentence which you did not say.

I don't think I would use 'is' here but that's not to say that it is not possible. Using 'is' would suggest that you see the sentence as a real sentence which exists (in your 'mental box' of sentences, say) but which you have chosen not to deploy. It's really a question of how the speaker wishes to present the language.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I'm sure "would" in your sentence is hypothetical.

Using 'is' would suggest that you see the sentence as a real sentence which exists...

But I think it's not wrong to say without "would": "using 'is' suggest that you see the sentence as real sentence whicb exists".

But the choise is difficult as to whether I should "is" or "would".

Submitted by Selet on Sat, 31/07/2021 - 00:42

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Hello all. I'm sure that "would" in this context means the same thing as "might". Am I right? This week’s English for football phrase is to score a brace. A brace means two of the same thing and comes from hunting – a brace of guns might be two pistols, a brace of birds would be two birds that had been shot for food. In football, you can score a brace, two goals (We use this phrase to describe one player scoring two goals – they scored a brace).

Hello Selet,

I think it's better to say that 'would' indicates a hypothetical situation in this case. In other words, if you were in a hunting context, a brace of birds would be two birds that someone had hunted.

'hypothetical' means something like 'imaginary'. 'might' refers to a possibility, which in a way is also imaginary, but in English we make a distinction between an imagined (hypothetical) situation and possibility.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk. In an example sentences of my book explain as follows: It is a cat. (Fact). It will be a cat. (Probability) It would/might be a cat. (Possibility)

Hi Dwishiren,

I'm just replying for Kirk :)

It's a bit tricky to see the meaning of these modal verbs in isolated sentences like the ones you mentioned. As you probably know, modal verbs have several different meanings, and some uses are more common than others. Even if would and might can both mean possibility, I think might is more typically used for this meaning.

 

Going back to Selet's original example, I agree with Kirk that would indicates a hypothetical situation. Notice a slight difference between these phrases.

  • a brace of guns might be two pistols - A pistol is one type of gun. But, other types of gun exist (e.g. rifles). That may be the reason why the speaker used 'might'. 'Two pistols' is an example of what 'a brace of guns' may mean - but it's not the only possibility.
  • a brace of birds would be two birds that had been shot for food - in the context of hunting, that is certainly what 'a brace of birds' means. There's no other possible interpretation (as there was with 'a brace of guns'). This may be why the speaker uses 'would' - to show what 'a brace of birds' means in this hypothetical situation (i.e. we are imagining a situation in which somebody says 'a brace of birds').

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Fri, 30/07/2021 - 08:56

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Does "would" show possiblity here? To rouse somebody is to wake them up, make them interested, make them excited etc. It is extremely difficult to rouse my father in the mornings. (In an informal style, ... to wake my father up... would be much more natural)

Hello Jembut,

If I understand the context correctly, I'd say it's talking about hypothetical situation. In other words, the speaker is imagining an informal situation and is imagining what it would be like.

Hope this helps. If I've misunderstood, please explain in more detail.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user amit_ck

Submitted by amit_ck on Sun, 25/07/2021 - 15:05

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I know how busy you must be and naturally I wouldn't want to take up too much of your time Why there is Wouldn’t instead of Don’t or Won’t? Could you please give me some examples of it?

Hello amit_ck,

All three of those forms are possible here; each suggests that the speaker is thinking about the situation in a slightly different way. 'wouldn't', for example, being more hypothetical, could suggest the speaker sees it as unlikely, but in many cases it could also simply be a more polite way of making the request. (One way in which we express politeness in English is to speak about a hypothetical situation, which is considered to be less of an imposition.)

The other two forms, being more immediate, are generally less polite, though not necessarily rude.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Thu, 22/07/2021 - 03:40

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Could you explain the use of "would" in this sentence? The adjective ‘textbook‘ is used when you want to describe something done well, and done in the correct way. Usually, textbook is a noun, and it is a manual that you learn from – a ‘how to’ book. Coaches will learn their jobs by suing textbooks on football tactics and son on. When used as an adjective it means something is done in an orthodox way, as described in a textbook. So, a textbook tackle is a tackle that you learn to do when you are training; it is a perfect example of how to make a tackle. A textbook penalty would be a penalty that coaches teach you to take – probably low and hard ion the corner.

Hello Crokong,

Would is used because the speaker is not talking about a particular penalty in reality but rather an imagined perfect penalty.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter M. So, does the "would" mean imagined? A textbook penalty is imagined a penalty...

Hello again Crokong,

Yes, it is imagined. You are not describing a real penalty but rather an imagined perfect penalty.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Sat, 17/07/2021 - 10:56

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I sometimes find "would" used in this sentence, what does it actually mean? And if I change it with "is", is it wrong? A: Which is correct? They reached the oasis, walking / having been walking across the desert all day. B: 'Having been walking' would be OK, but more likely, I think, would be 'having walked

Hello Plokonyo,

It's difficult to talk about sentences without knowing what situation they're supposed to be used in and particularly when they're just made up, but I'll try to make a few points that I think will help you. Please know, however, that we just don't have the time to do this very often for our users.

A. This sounds a little unnatural to me. If the idea is they reached the oasis by walking, I'd say 'They reached the oasis by walking across the desert' or perhaps 'They walked through the desert all day to reach the oasis'. It depends on how the sentence fits in with the rest of the narrative.

B. Yes, 'having been walking' is a grammatical form, but is quite unusual and doesn't really work here. You could say 'Having walked across the desert all day, they reached the oasis'. You can read more about this structure on our participle clauses page.

If in B you were asking about the word 'would', here it's used to express a hypothetical situation, i.e. 'If I said this, it would be OK'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Tue, 13/07/2021 - 06:44

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What is the usage of "would" here? When we say 'I need to go to the bathroom' we are talking about the physical need, not the room. You could say 'I need to go to the bathroom' in the middle of a field or a forest, for example! If we want to talk about the room then we would use 'a' or 'the' depending on the situation

Hello Gendeng,

Would is often used to express preferences or choices in phrases like I'd like (I would like), I'd say, I'd choose, I'd want, I'd prefer etc.

Grammatically speaking, you could argue that the if-clause should have a past form (If we wanted...) but I think the best way to look at would here is in the context of expressing an opinion or preference.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dwishiren on Fri, 02/07/2021 - 07:16

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What is the point of "would" here? Does it mean will possibly? now, just because a game has seven goals it does not always mean it’s a thriller. For example, if a team wins 7-0 or 6-1 we don’t usually call it a seven-goal thriller – it would be better to use a thrashing or a trouncing to describe the heavy defeat

Hi Dwishiren,

No, actually it doesn't mean 'possibly' here. It shows that this is an imagined situation - the speaker is not talking about any particular description of a game that has taken place.

Another explanation is that the speaker is giving advice to the reader, and using 'would' to give the advice has the effect of making it seem less direct and more polite.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Jonathan. How about the use of "would" in this sentence? Kiss the woodwork DB: Goretzka’s shot is different to Sanches’ as it only just touched the woodwork. The writer uses the verb ‘to kiss‘ to describe this light touch. As in the example with Sanches’ shot, we can describe the incident with more detail by replacing woodwork with crossbar or bar – the horizontal part of the goal. So, the shot kissed the bar as it flashed by. Alternatives to kiss, would be to graze or to shave. Both of these verbs describe delicate contact. Indeed in the live commentary of the game, the commentator said the shot shaved the crossbar

Hello Dwishiren,

Would here is used to suggest a hypothetical alternative. You can imagine an implied if-clause: if you wanted to use a different word.

 

You could use a simple present form instead: Alternatives to kiss are...

This describes the matter from a vocabulary point of view. It is a description of the language rather than a description of what a person might want to do. In this context, of course, the difference is minimal.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Sat, 19/06/2021 - 02:30

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Could you tell me why "would" is used in this sentence? ....a booming strike would be a really hard shot. We decided to look at how some of the UK press described this contender for goal of the tournament from Schick and so we’ll start with The Guardian who called it, ‘… a booming curler over the keeper’. The word ‘curler‘ describes the direction of the shot – the player curled or bent the ball over the keeper – while the word ‘booming‘ describes the power with which Schick hit the ball; a booming strike would be a really hard shot for example

Hello Jembut,

Would implies a hypothetical or imaginary situation here. If someone had produced a booming strike then you could say 'that booming strike was a really hard shot'. If you're speaking hypothetically then would is used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Fri, 18/06/2021 - 11:10

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Hello, could you explain why "would" means something like "probably"? Six o'clock would be a good time to meet. It would be better to paint the wall green.

Hello Crokong,

It's not really about probability. Would is used for uncertain or tentative propositions and because of this it sounds more polite in requests and proposals than will.

For example:

1. It will be better to paint the wall green.

2. It would be better to paint the wall green

The first sentence is very direct and sounds more like an instruction than a suggestion. The second sentence is more tentative and hence sounds much more like a polite recommendation or suggestion.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Sun, 23/05/2021 - 10:59

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Dear Kirk and Peter, What's the difference of meaning between using "will" and "would" in these two sentences ? 1) If he helps me, I will return the favour. 2) If he helps me, I would return the favour. Thanks

Hi melvinthio,

Sentence 1 sounds like it is describing a promise or a commitment that you have already made. Sentence 2 seems more like a hypothetical situation, i.e., you have not actually promised or committed to help him, but you would do that if he helps you. Sentence 2 conveys more uncertainty than sentence 1 about whether this whole situation will actually happen or not, because it uses would.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Jonathan for your explanation. So, for sentence 2 : "If he helps me, I would return the favour", can I understand it this way? [1] Using "would" means that in my present imagination, "returning his favour" is something that's existing in my mind right now, but I'm not sure yet what I will actually do later if he helps me, I might do a different thing later, I don't know. This sense is in contrast with the sentence 1 using "will" which gives the implication that I have made the promise or commitment to return the favour if he helps me. [2] You explained that sentence 2 is more uncertain than sentence 1 about whether the whole situation will actually happen or not. I assume what you mean by "the whole situation will actually happen or not" refers to the main clause using "would", and not to the if clause because the two if clauses have the same tense, i.e. present tense. Is my assumption right? I would appreciate your clear explanation and if possible, please provide me with an example to make it clearer. Thanks.
To make it simple for me to understand the combined usage of present tense in if-clause + "would" in tye main clause (if he helps me, I would return the favour), please help me explain whether there is a difference between : (1) if he helps me, I would return the favour (present tense + would) (2) if he helped me, I would return the favour (second conditiinal). Thanks

Hi melvinthio,

I’ll list the three sentences here again:

  1. If he helps me, I will return the favour.
  2. If he helps me, I would return the favour.
  3. If he helped me, I would return the favour.

About your question [1], sentence 2 doesn’t mean that the speaker is unsure what he/she will do later. (That is the meaning of might, e.g. If he helps me, I might return the favour). If the speaker says I would return the favour, he/she is definitely willing to do that, given that the condition (if he helps me) is fulfilled.

 

About question [2], it is unclear whether sentence 2 is describing:

  • a real or possible future situation (as in sentence 1, a first conditional), or
  • an unreal/hypothetical one (as in sentence 3, a second conditional).

It's unclear because sentence 2 has the if-clause of a first conditional, and the main clause of a second conditional. You are right to note that the if-clauses are the same in sentences 1 and 2. However, it is important to note that to understand each sentence, we need to interpret what the two clauses mean in relation to each other, not separately. That’s because the actions in the two clauses are logically connected (a condition and a result). This is why I wrote that sentence 2 is more uncertain than sentence 1. It’s not only about the would clause, because the would clause depends on the if-clause. If the if-clause describes a real future but the main clause describes an unreal future, the sentence overall is ambiguous about whether the condition-result belong to a real or unreal future, and the listener will have to use other information (e.g. the context in which it is said) to interpret whether this is a real or unreal offer to return the favour.

 

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jonathan, Once again thanks so much for your clear explanation. Yes, it makes sense that If the if-clause describes a real future but the main clause describes an unreal future (e.g. if he helps, I would return his favour), the sentence overall is ambiguous about whether the condition-result belongs to a real or unreal future. However, this kind of combined structure is often used by English native speakers in spoken English. I have never seen an explanation for this combination in grammar books, so I need your help. If, from the context in which it is said, it is already clear that this combined structure refers to the first or second conditional, it means that the semantic problem of this structure is solved. But is it grammatically right to use it to replace the first or second conditional sentence? I was hoping you would help me with a clear explanation to this grammatical issue. Best regards,

Hi melvinthio,

Is it grammatically right? This is a simple question with a complicated answer :)

The answer depends on your view about what grammar is, and what it is for. Some people think of grammar as a set of rules which people must follow. In this point of view, the sentence is incorrect, since:

  • it doesn’t conform to the first or second conditional structure.
  • course books rarely or never teach this structure (as you pointed out).

On the other hand, some people see grammar as a way to describe (not prescribe) how people actually use language in real life, including new and creative ways that may not be traditionally regarded as correct. In this point of view, it can be considered correct, because:

  • the sentence does mean something (despite the ambiguity of the realness-unrealness), and listeners can make sense of it by using contextual information.
  • in real life, people do sometimes make constructions like this (as you pointed out).

Another thing to consider is the situation. One way to judge correctness is the appropriateness in the situation. In a discussion about a legal contract or in a language exam, for instance, when there is an expectation that a person should speak very clearly and precisely, I wouldn’t recommend saying that sentence, since the meaning is ambiguous. But in ordinary conversation, I think it would be fine.

What do you think?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Jonathan, thanks so much for your clear explanation. Now, I have another query about the usage of the word "ever" specifically in affirmative sentences. Can we use it in relative clauses [examples 1&2] and that clauses [examples 3&4] ? E.g. : [1] Any of the books he has ever written is great. [2] This is the topic we have ever discussed. [3] I'm sure he has ever phoned her. [4] I think we have ever met before. I would highly appreciate your help. Best regards,

Hi melvinthio,

I’m assuming you mean the most common meaning of ever: at any time. Actually, I wouldn't use ever in these sentences, except perhaps [1].

In [1], ever is redundant because any of the books already gives the idea of 'at any time'. So, I would delete it, but it's OK to keep ever if you want to specially emphasise the 'at any time' idea.

[2] refers to a particular discussion, so ever doesn’t fit the meaning. The discussion happened at some particular time (not at any time), even if the time is not stated here or I may not know or remember when it happened.

In [3] and [4] too, ever doesn't fit the meaning. If you are sure he has phoned her or you think we have met before, these events must have happened at some time (not at any time).

I hope that helps! If you have any more questions about ever, please post them on our Present perfect or Perfect aspect pages. We can continue the conversation there :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Sat, 22/05/2021 - 14:35

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Could you please explain the extent of the possibility or the probability of this given statement happening or it being true when we use "would" in imaging a situation(hypotheses case)? It would be very expensive to stay in a hotel. Is it like we are imagining it to be true?

Hello Mussorie,

I'm afraid it's impossible to say how possible or probable it is without being the person who says this and knowing the situation he or she is in. It could, for example, be that two people with a limited budget are discussing whether to go visit an expensive city; in this case, they're talking about a possibility which could be something they're really considering, or it could be just a dream -- that is, very unlikely. Only the context and the speaker's perception determine this.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Ok, I can understand the context, but it is given as an example in would and will usage on this site. One more thing I would like to ask is that is the "would" used in the present tense aspect as an imaginary, meaning whether is the action or state possible to some extent or completely imaginary (not possible).

Hello Mussorie,

I'm not sure what you mean by 'present tense aspect', but we can certainly use would to describe both unlikely and entirely imaginary situations:

It would be nice to go to the cinema (if they were open).

It would be nice to fly to the moon (if I had superpowers).

 

If you have a different context in mind then we'll be happy to comment, of course.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

The present tense aspect means present tense, but if we use would in the present tense context then can we expect the action or state to be likely to happen or completely imaginary.

Hello again Mussorie,

Please provide a concrete example of what you have in mind (an example sentence). I think it will be much clearer if we are looking at something concrete rather than speaking in abstract terms.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 12:30

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Sir, in award winning show when somone win the award and give the speech to the audience, winner says, "i would say thanks to my director and producer and so so". What is "would" in this context? Does would express the present tense here?? Subject is saying thanks in present time. would has many uses, some of which also express present tense. 1. I would read. - reading in present time 2.i will read- reading in future time.