'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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Submitted by Crokong on Sat, 30/10/2021 - 01:16

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Jurgen Klopp says it would be 'a crime' to rest Mohamed Salah for visit of 'tricky' Brighton |

Why is "would" used in this sentence? Is the speaker is less certain?

Hello Crokong,

We've provided a lot of similar explanations as to the use of 'would' so I think you can answer your own question here. What do you think?

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Wed, 27/10/2021 - 06:29

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Which one should I say in the following sentence?

My answer to your question is that...
My answer to your question would be that...

Hello Crokong,

Both forms are possible and commonly used. The form with 'would' is a little more tentative and, perhaps, polite; the form with 'is' is more direct.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, I don't really understand what you mean by "tentative". "Is" (more direct) sounds not polite, dorsn't it?

Submitted by Jembut on Fri, 22/10/2021 - 03:01

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How does "would" work in this sentence?

"I'm going to ___ bank/park/etc" needs an article, either a definite article "the" or an indefinite article "a or an" before the words for your destination. Saying "I'm going to bank" or "...to park" or "...to zoo", etc., <strong>would</strong> not be a good idea; such sentences don't mean anything.

If I say without "would", is it still correct and fits the situation?

Saying "I'm going to bank" or "...to park" or "...to zoo", etc., is not a good idea; such sentences don't mean anything.

Hello Jembut,

Yes, you can say 'Saying "I'm going to bank" is not a good idea' instead of 'Saying "I'm going to bank" would not be a good idea' but they are more or less appropriate depending on the situation. The first one is good as a general rule, whereas the second one is talking about an imaginary situation.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk. Thanks. I said this sentence to a native speaker "I want to write you this evening", then he replies 'it should be "write to you". In British English, it would be wrong to omit "to". My question: why is "would" used in "it would be wrong to omit "to"?" I believe it's also correct to say "it's". It's difficult for me to decide as to whether I should 'is' or 'would' in some situation.

In British English, it would be wrong to omit "a".
In British English, it's wrong to omit "to".

Hello Jembut,

In the situation you describe, I also prefer 'it's wrong' to 'it would be wrong', but it's OK to use 'would'.

By using 'would', the person you spoke might be trying to be polite. In British English, speaking about a hypothetical situation (even if we are really speaking about a current situation) is one way we make a sentence more polite.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Thu, 21/10/2021 - 08:52

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In the sentence "it would be...",, why is "would" used in this sentence? Is it OK if "would" be substituted with "is?" It is....

Question A: I've tied the knot for 42 years. It's incredible. The time pass so quickly. Is this sentence right?

Answer B: The expression "tie the knot" means to get married - the ceremony itself, so in your sentence it would be I/we tied the knot 42 years ago

Hi Jembut,

The speaker of answer B uses 'would' because the correction (i.e. 'I/we tied the knot 42 years ago') is not what person A actually said. That is, 'would' shows what the person hypothetically should have said at that time, but did not say in reality.

It would be less common to use 'is'. If you say 'in your sentence it is "I/we tied the knot ..."'), it's a bit confusing because actually, person A's sentence is NOT that. Person A's sentence is the original sentence (i.e., the incorrect version), not the corrected version.

But you could use 'is' if you rephrase the sentence a bit to clarify this, e.g. '... so in your sentence, the correct form is ...'. This is a more direct correction, compared to the 'would' version. It states the correct form in a clear and factual way. But because of this, it may seem too forceful or uncompromising (i.e. it sounds like the person is saying 'You must say this instead - this is the only acceptable answer'). The 'would' version makes the correction less direct, and may seem more polite for that reason.

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

Thanks,Jonathan. I see you use "would" in your sentence "It would be less commom to use "is". Could you explain why you use "would"?

Hi Jembut,

It's for the same reason that I mentioned above. I want to advise you not to use 'is' in that context, and I want to give my advice in a polite way (i.e., less directly than saying, for example, "Do not use 'is'" or "It is wrong to use 'is'" or "It is less common to use 'is'". These may sound too forceful or prescriptive). :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. I'm beginning to understand now. How about this sentence? Here is an explanation of my English grammar book about the word "rouse".

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... <strong>would</strong> be much more natural.

There is a 'would' here. So why does the writer use it rather than "is"? Hypothetical or advise?

Hi Jembut,

Yes, it could be hypothetical. The actual sentence is "It is extremely difficult to rouse my father in the mornings". The version with "wake my father up" was not actually said in this example sentence, so we are just imagining it (i.e., it is hypothetical).

The use of "would" could also be to give advice. The writer is advising the reader not to use "rouse" in informal situations, and perhaps wants to avoid sounding too forceful or dogmatic.

These two meanings are not mutually exclusive, and in fact they often occur together.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. But it's also correct to use "is", isn't it? In an informal situation "...to wake my father up..." is much more natural. It's difficul for me to decide whether I should use "is" or "would" since both is interchangeable. So, could you explan in what situation I should use "is" or "would"?

In an informal situation, "...to wake my father up..." is much more natural.
In an informal situation, "...to wake my father up..." would be much more natural.

Hi Jembut,

Yes, it is also grammatically correct, and people do say that! It depends on the situation.

An important thing to understand here is that what is grammatically correct and what is acceptable or appropriate in a situation are two different things. Something can be grammatically correct but not appropriate in the particular situation. So, we need to understand the social norms of the situation (i.e., the purpose of the conversation, and the relationship between the speaker and listener) in order to decide which word is more appropriate. And, many times, both will be appropriate.

Your first sentence ("... is much more natural") uses the present tense, which is often used for rules or facts. If a speaker says this, he/she is presenting a rule of the language to the listener, and telling the listener to follow it. This may be totally fine in some situations (e.g., a teacher explaining rules to a class, or a parent teaching a child). But it may be inappropriate in other situations. If I don't know you well, for example, I might not want to tell you what to do directly. That might show you that I consider myself to be superior to you (i.e., I am right and you are wrong; you must do what I say). It may be embarrassing and impolite. That's what I meant in my previous messages when I wrote about sounding too forceful. Somebody may choose "would" in order to avoid this effect.

Also, to say "... is much more natural" is an absolute statement. It does not admit any possibility of a different opinion about what sounds natural - it simply states a rule that the listener must follow. However, different opinions are possible. People disagree about what is more natural - it involves subjective judgement. And there is a lot of variety in English usage around the world. Also, in reality, grammatical correctness is not the only factor in what we choose say. For example, people sometimes break grammar rules in order to make creative new expressions. If I simply give you a rule and tell you to follow it, it may oversimplify how people actually use language in real life.

Added to these reasons, in this particular example, as I mentioned before, the version with "wake my father up" was not actually said in the example sentence (i.e., it's a hypothetical version of the example). This also shows that the choice of "would" or "is" also depends on things said in the rest of the conversation (which is another aspect of the situation).

So in summary, I don't think it is possible to make a simple statement about when to use "is" or "would". The reason is that these words are not used only for their meaning or grammatical function. They are often chosen for a social function. So, when you choose which word to use, you should consider what level of politeness and directness is appropriate in the situation ("is" is more direct and possibly less polite; "would" is less direct and more polite). To decide this, you will need to consider the reason why you are communicating, what was said in the rest of the conversation, and your relationship with the other person.

Sorry to write so much but I hope it somehow helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Wow, thanks very much for the explanation, Jonathan. What a briliant expalanation. I really get it now. Very clear.

Submitted by Selet on Tue, 28/09/2021 - 00:25

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Does "would" mean "could be" in this sentence? To register a shot on target means to have a shot on target. In this example, United have not troubled the keeper - they have not had any shots on target. Another way of saying 'on target' would be 'on goal' - the team did not register a shot on goal.

Submitted by Crokong on Fri, 17/09/2021 - 13:12

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The game is today, but why is the speaker talking about an uneal situation? Shouldn't it use "will"? Why is "would" used? Good afternoon and welcome to Sports Mole's live commentary of the Premier League encounter between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester United. The clash is crucial at both ends of the table, with Wolves currently sitting in the bottom three, while victory for United would move Sir Alex Ferguson's side four points clear of Manchester City at the summit.

Hello Crokong,

It's certainly possible to use 'will' here but commentators are expected to be neutral and fair to both sides of a game, and 'will' would give the impression that the commentator is not strictly neutral. A fan would be more likely to use 'will' as they would want to express their faith in their team.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kiranpn on Sun, 12/09/2021 - 03:35

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Hi team, I am wondering about the meaning of “would be” in the below sentence, is this “would be= past tense of will” or it is “would be = guessing like ‘could be’”? “Do you ever think it would be a good idea to allow exceptions to rules? Then the adjective good would have an adverb goodly.” Regards, Kiran
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 12/09/2021 - 09:19

In reply to by kiranpn

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Hi kiranpn,

I think would here is used because the speaker is not asking about a real situation but rather a hypothetical one. No-one has the power to allow or not allow exceptions in this way, so the question is not about a real possibility.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Peter. So, the “would” on above sentence is more likely conditional and like the past tense of will, where the first clause is implied (if I had to make a decision). Not like this definition of “would” by Cambridge dictionary: used to refer to what is very likely: would modal verb(probability) "The guy on the phone had a Southern accent." "That would be Tom. Regards, Kiran

Hello Kiran,

Yes, I think that's correct. The Cambridge Dictionary explanation refers to the use of would to draw a logical conclusion, not to refer to possible futures.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Sun, 05/09/2021 - 03:02

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I would like to know the use of would in this sentence. "Trezeguet rocket bursts Gunners’ bubble and lifts Villa out of drop zone.’ Well, a rocket in football is usually associated with a really hard shot – an unstoppable shot – and so here the sentence means that the Aston Villa player Trezeguet has scored against Arsenal (The Gunners) with an unstoppable shot. By the way, to shatter or break their dreams and of course his goal meant that Aston Villa moved out of the bottom three – the relegation zone. By the way, other words for a really hard shot in football include thunderbolt, screamer or a sweet strike.

Submitted by Gendeng on Sun, 29/08/2021 - 08:53

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Sir, this sentence uses "would", then what's the difference by just saying without woud To operate in football mean where a player ‘works’ or plays on the pitch. To operate in football would mean where a player ‘works’ or plays on the pitch. So, in this example, Pepe is stationed or positioned on the right – that is where he will do most of his work – we would expect to see Pepe on the right hand side.

Hello Gendeng,

I think we've given you qute a few explanations of why we use would in sentences similar to this, so perhaps you can try to explain it yourself and we'll tell you if you are correct or not.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Thu, 26/08/2021 - 03:05

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What is the use of "would" in the following conversation? American English: Excuse me. Could you open the window? British English: Excuse me. Could you please open the window? In American English, please in that context would be an expression of impatience.) Is it wrong if I replace it with "is"? In American English, please in that context is be an expression of impatience.)

Hi Jembut,

In this example, the American English speaker says Excuse me. Could you open the window?, and we understand this as reflecting what American English speakers normally say in real lifePlease is not included in that sentence (because, as it points out, using please in that context may seem rude to American English speakers).

So, if we imagine the American English speaker saying please in that context, we are imagining a hypothetical situation (i.e., it's unlikely that an American English speaker would actually say that; it's not normal or usual in real life), because it sounds rude, and people normally try to avoid that. That's why would is used. It shows us that speakers are unlikely to actually use please in that context.

It's grammatically correct if you use is instead of would be, but using is may give the idea that using please in that situation is more common than it actually is.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Thu, 26/08/2021 - 13:59

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Thanks, Jonathan. How about the following? How does "would" work? Question A: Can we ask: Are you well? when we mean Are you OK? For example: You see someone who might need help or has gone pale. Answer B: In that context it would be natural to ask "Are you unwell?", but "Are you OK?" is more colloquial.

Hi Jembut,

Would is used because the situation they are talking about is hypothetical. As A says Can we ask ...? and for example, it shows that this situation is one that he/she is imagining, and not one that really or necessarily happened.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Jembut on Fri, 27/08/2021 - 00:26

In reply to by Jonathan R

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Thanks, Jonathan. I read my grammar book and see such a plain would be disastrous. What does "would actually mean?

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)