'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.

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Hello Selet,

It really amounts to the same thing. 'would need' is less direct than 'need' because it's hypothetical. Something less real is less direct.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Selet on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 23:51

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Hello, Jonathan. Could you tell me how "would" works in this sentence?

A: When shall I ring you?
B: After six would be best.

Hello Selet,

You could also say 'After six is best', but saying 'would be' is perceived as less demanding (and therefore more polite in most contexts).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Selet,

Perhaps I should have said 'less direct' instead of 'less demanding'. One of the main ways of being polite in English is to not expect other people to agree to our requests. Imposing our wishes on someone else, i.e. demanding that they do what we ask, is considered not polite.

Of course we still need to ask people to do things for us! So one way we can more politely ask them to do things is to be less direct. Using past tense forms or 'would' instead of 'will' is one very common way of doing this.

Hope that helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Fri, 11/03/2022 - 23:28

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It would be very expensive to stay in a hotel.

Do we just imagine here if we doen't stay in a hotel?

If using "will" it means there is a plan to stay in a hotel?

Hi Plokonyo,

Yes, right. Using would shows that the speaker is just imagining this situation, and doesn't consider it a realistic possibility. The speaker may be just thinking aloud, without having any intention or possibility of actually travelling and staying in any hotel, for example.

Using will means the speaker sees this as relatively more likely to happen. The speaker may have an intention of travelling and booking some form of accommodation (although not this particular hotel, it seems). However, speakers often use would in this case too, because it has the effect of sounding more polite. This sentence may be a criticism of somebody else's idea or plan, for example - it is telling somebody that their plan is not a good one, which might cause offence. So, speakers might use would to show their disagreement more politely.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot for the explanation, Jonathan. By the way, how does "would" in the following sentence? Does it imagine a situation or show a disagreement more politely? I would take it to mean....

Q: Does "openings" here mean chance?
Chelsea still dominating the ball so far, but Norwich having a few more openings...

A: I would take it to mean opportunities. The word opening is often used in this sense; for example, a job opening = a job opportunity (e.g. a job that’s become vacant).

Hi Plokonyo,

I think you can interpret it in two ways.

  1. An imagined situation (since the person answering the question apparently did not hear/read the sentence that the questioner is asking about in its original situation, and so is imagining how he/she would understand it if he/she heard it)
  2. Polite advice (i.e., telling the questioner how they should understand it).

Disagreement is not relevant here, since the questioner doesn't give any opinion to disagree with, but the need for politeness is similar - since giving advice can seem rude or socially inappropriate if it is done strongly.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot, Jonathan. What is the difference between "I would take it to mean" and "I take it to mean"? Use "would" and without "would".

A: Does "openings" here mean chance?
Chelsea still dominating the ball so far, but Norwich having a few more openings...

B: I would take it to mean opportunities. Or I take it to mean oppoturnities.

Hi Plokonyo,

"I take it to mean ..." is a relatively simpler statement of how the speaker interprets that word. The speaker does not necessarily intend to give advice to the questioner - he/she may simply intend to state his/her view, without influencing the other person's view.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

HI Jonathan,

I had a doubt; do we always use the past tense when using 'would' as a conditional?
For example, I would never go alone on a trip with someone if I didn't like them.
Or
I would never go alone on a trip with someone if I don't like them.

Which one is grammatically correct?

Thanks!

Daxita

Hi Daxita,

The exact meaning of the second sentence is slightly less clear than the first one, but they are both grammatically correct. The first one (using didn't like in the past simple and would) shows that this whole situation is unlikely or purely imaginary, in the speaker's point of view.

In the second one, using don't like in the present simple shows that not liking the person is real or possible, in the speaker's view (i.e., the speaker thinks there is a reasonable possibility of not liking the person). Using would in the same sentence, however, suggests an imaginary situation, so overall it's not clear how (un)real or (un)likely the speaker considers the whole situation, including both cause and result. This may not be important, however - it depends on the context and reason for saying this this. For example, perhaps the speaker simply wants to tell someone that it's really important to like one's travel partner. In this case, both sentences express the idea well.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Faber on Mon, 28/02/2022 - 04:22

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Hi all,
I'm wondering if someone can give a hand with this, I have a doubt about uses of would in questions. It is possible to use would with all of the pronouns?

Ex:
Would (I, you, he, she, it, we, they) use the car?

Or "would" can only use with some of them.

Thanks.

Hello Faber,

You can use 'would' with any pronoun.

The only modal verb which has a limited pronoun range is 'shall', which tends to be used with first person singular and plural ('I' and 'we').

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by thanhngan712 on Sat, 19/02/2022 - 06:15

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"how would you describe yourself/your personality?"
Can I ask what is the purpose of "would" here?

Hello thanhngan712,

 

'Would' is used here to make the question less direct and more tactful or polite. You can imagine an implied if-clause: If I were to ask you, how would you....?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hannie Vu on Thu, 30/12/2021 - 02:51

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Hi team, I have a question about the meaning of "would" in this sentence, please help me and thank you very much

What is the problem?
Alex read my journal.
I did not! Why WOULD I even want to read your stupid journal?
Because it contains the details of a life, and you don't have one!

Hi Hannie Vu,

It's from Modern Family, right? It's a funny show :)

Using "would" shows that this (i.e., wanting to read the journal) is NOT the real present situation. (The real present situation is that she does not want to read the journal.) So, wanting to reading the journal is a hypothetical situation - i.e., something that is not reality, and is only something imaginary.

You can see more examples of this meaning in the 'Hypotheses and conditionals' section on the page above.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vanya on Fri, 03/12/2021 - 09:00

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Hello. I had a question about whether (will) indicates future prediction and something you would like to do or typical behaviour and habit in this sentence: I will have a shower and then eat breakfast.

Hi Vanya,

I think all of those meanings are possible (although prediction is perhaps less likely, since predictions are typically about other people and things, not one's own actions).

It's not clear from this sentence alone which meaning is intended, so we would need to work that out by using other information from the context in which this sentence was said or written. :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Jonathan. How does "would" work in this sentence?

I look at a headline from the Sun newspaper. The headline says "Ralf will adapt style for Ronaldo". "But knee injury fears for opener". Then the writer goes on to say:

"Ronaldo is a big doubt for Ralf Rangnick's debut in the Manchester United dugout as he nurses a knee injury. It would be a major blow for the new boss who vowed to adapt his tactics to get the best out of the talisman."

Hello Selet,

If I've understood correctly, what this article says is that 1) Rangnick is counting on Ronaldo playing in Man United's first game with Rangnick as manager and 2) Ronaldo might not play in this game because he has a knee injury that doesn't allow him to play.

We don't yet know if Ronaldo can play in this game because his condition may improve, or it may not.

Therefore Ronaldo not playing in the game is speculation; at this point we can only imagine what it will be like. This is a hypothetical situation; 'would' reflects this.

Hope that helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dean on Sun, 28/11/2021 - 12:15

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Hi, WHAT TENSE IS THIS?
and can we use would it the future perfect at all?

EX. Don't think about this in the long run, would have found a new job by then!

Hello Dean,

The 'would have' + past participle form is often called conditional perfect, though not everyone (including the author of this page) really agree with this name.

It's typically used to talk about a hypothetical or imaginary action -- typically one that would have occurred if the past had been different. It's often used in third conditional constructions, which you can read more about on our Conditionals 2 page (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-i…).

I'm afraid that the sentence you ask about doesn't make much sense to me, but I suppose that 'will have' seems better than 'would have' since it appears to talk about a future time rather than an imaginary one.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Tue, 23/11/2021 - 00:52

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What is the difference between I guess and I would guess? For instance.

My guess is that she is Japanese, not Chinsese.
My guess would be that she is Japanese, not Chinese.

Hi Plokonyo,

Using 'would' makes the guess more tentative. A speaker might say this if:

- they have little confidence that their guess is correct.
- they want to avoid committing themselves to a particular guess. Using "would" implies that it is possible to change one's mind in the future about the guess.
- they are reluctant to make a guess in the first place (i.e. "If you asked me, my guess would be ..." - an unreal, hypothetical present). For example, in some situations it may be socially inappropriate to try to guess somebody's nationality.

In comparison, the first sentence states the speaker's guess in a relatively simple and factual way. It suggests more confidence and commitment to that guess.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot, Jonathan. You say "would" makes the guess more tentative. Could you tell me what is meant by "tentative?" Also, what is the meaning of "hypothetical" in the use of would?

Q: What does "scorcher" mean in footbal
A: Scorch means to burn and in football a scorcher refers to a really hard shot. A scorcher is a really well-struck shot that travels very fast and powerfully into the net. Another word for this would be thunderbolt.

Here speaker A uses "would", why choose to use "would" rather than "is"?

Hi Plokonyo,

‘Tentative’ means something is not certain, or the speaker is not confident that it will actually happen. For example, if I plan to have a meeting at 10:00 but it’s not confirmed yet, then it’s a tentative plan.

‘Hypothetical’ means something is imagined in our mind, but is not necessarily true or real. It may be not true or not real because it is conditional on something else, unlikely to happen or even impossible, or an imagined alternative version of something that actually did happen.

About your second question, we’ve had several similar questions recently. Can I refer you to some of the good answers on this page below? The comment thread started by Jembut on 21/10/2021, in particular, might help - try to find that one below.

And let us know if you have any questions about it :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the explanation, Jonathan. Yes, I'm beginning to understand now. What about the the following sentence? Here is an explanation about the phrase "I mean". How does "would" work here?

The phrase "I mean...", so "I mean" as a common English phrase that we use at the beginning of sentences to empahsize what we want to say or just used to give us more time to think about what we want to say. So in this case, it would be a filler word.

Hi Plokonyo,

This is a hypothetical situation, i.e., what the word would mean if somebody used it as a filler in a sentence. It's not about any particular sentence that somebody actually said, so it is an imagined usage rather than a real usage.

By the way, I noticed that some of the examples you ask about seem to come from English learning materials. If I may suggest, it might be a good idea to ask questions to the writers/teachers themselves, if you have a chance, as they will know best what meaning they intended. Here, we can try our best to explain what they mean, but it might be better to hear from the writer of this sentence him/herself.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Sun, 14/11/2021 - 02:28

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Why do we use "would" here? And what does it mean?

In English, there are different ways to express "very cold": one would be "freezing", another would be "icy"... there are many other possibilities.

Hello Plokonyo,

We often use 'would' to describe different options to choose from. You could use the present simple here as well.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter M. I'm confused. As you have said. Either "is" or "would" can be used to describe different options. I don't know which I should choose in a sentence. Could you explain more clearly?

Hello again Plokonyo,

In this context, 'is' describes a fact about the world; 'would' describes an option you could choose if you wished. Both are perfectly fine here; it's really a question of preference for the speaker/writer.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Sat, 13/11/2021 - 07:03

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Q: Which preposition should be used in "at" or "in" school?
A: Either "at" or "in" would be correct.

Here the second speaker uses would. What does it mean?

Hello Plokonyo,

'would' shows that the second speaker is thinking about a hypothetical situation. When we're not speaking about a specific situation -- in this case, for example, a specific situation would be a paragraph where a person says 'in school' or 'at school' -- we often use 'would' to show that we're speaking in general.

I can't say for sure that's what the second speaker intended here, but I think it's probably for this reason. It's quite a common situation.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the asnwer Kirk. But I don't see at all where the hypotehtical idea is. I'm kind of confused. By the way, you also use "would" in a specific situation would be a paragraph where a person says "in school" or "at school".Could you tell me what the meaning of would in your sentence is?

Hello again Plokonyo,

That's well-spotted but it's still correct to use 'would' in that situation because it's a situation that I'm imagining. Each speaker decides whether a situation is hypothetical or imaginary or not in the way the imagine it.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Plokonyo,

If I understand you correctly, the sentence you're asking me about is "In this case, for example, a specific situation would be a paragraph where a person says 'in school' or 'at school'."

In that sentence, I'm thinking about a situation (a classroom where a teacher answers a grammar question) that is imaginary. (By the way, I could also say that is it hypothetical. In this case, 'hypothetical' and 'imaginary' have the same meaning as far as I'm concerned.) There's no need for an 'if' or some kind of condition to be present for a situation to be hypothetical or imaginary.

By thinking of that situation as imaginary, I'm not suggesting it can't exist or doesn't exist. My language reflects my own idea that the situation I'm thinking about is imaginary/hypothetical.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Mon, 01/11/2021 - 03:35

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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.

Hi Crokong,

The speaker uses 'would' because this is a hypothetical situation. In this example, the speaker said 'on target'. The speaker did not actually say 'on goal' in this example, so we are imagining a version of the sentence that is different from the example. That's why it's hypothetical.

It is possible to say 'could be' instead of 'would be' here. That makes the sentence sound more like a suggestion.

It's also possible to say 'is' instead of 'would be'. That presents it more as a factual statement of what the words mean (rather than imagining an alternative version of the original example).

It's important to realise that all these meanings are possible and grammatically correct. It just depends what the speaker wants to say - a hypothetical alternative example, a suggestion, or a factual statement. I hope that helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot for the explanation, Jonathan.By the way, is It OK to use a second conditional to talk about a current situation? The game is underway and the commentator says something like this.

It would be staggering if this game finished goalless. Or
I would be surprised if this game finished goalless.

My interpretation is:
It will not be staggering, so this game doesn't finish goalless.
I will not be surprised, so this game doesn't finish goalless.

Thsese don't make lots of sense, or maybe I misunderstand this conditional. I'm really confused. Please help me

Hi Crokong,

Yes! We can use a second conditional to describe an unreal present or future. For example:

-- I wouldn't worry if I were you. (unreal present - I'm telling you not to worry now)
-- If I won a lot of money, I'd buy a big house in the country. (unreal future - I'm imagining this future purchase)

Actually, I think your first two examples are unreal futures (not unreal presents) because they are about the finish of the game. Presumably, the game is still going on when somebody says this, so they are talking about an imagined future event (the end of the game).

I think your interpretations are generally right, but I think the cause and effect should be the other way round. For example, I expect that the game will not finish goalless (= cause), SO it will not be staggering for me / I won't be surprised (= effect).

This page has more explanation and examples: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-i…

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. My English grqmmar book says something like this.

In UK English, if you are angry with a child, you would say that you are cross.
UK I'm cross with you for not telling me where you were going.

Is this sentence right? Shouldn't it be "if you were angry with a child, you would say..."? But I often see such a construction. where the if-clause is present, the main clause past. Or maybe "would" has other uses here?

Hi Crokong,

This is the 'conditional' usage of 'would'. You're right - people do sometimes make sentences like this, even though these sentences apparently do not follow the rules. In this case, it is unclear whether the speaker views this as a likely or an unlikely situation.

Is the sentence right? It depends. From a traditional point of view, it's an incorrect mix of different conditional structures. But from a 'real usage' point of view, people do say sentences like these, and it's clear enough that one action is conditional on the other one (even if the likeliness of it is less clear). So, it can be seen as acceptable too.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. If I don't know for sure, I'm just guessing. Do you use "would"?

A: What is the English translation of the French "trottoir"?
B: In UK, English it would be pavement, but it American English it would be sidewalk.

Hi Crokong,

It's possible, but 'could' or 'might' are more typically used for a guess (i.e., the speaker is not 100% sure that this is correct).

Here, the speaker is sure about the translation, but probably uses 'would' because he/she imagines a situation when somebody uses that word ('If you wanted to say that in UK English, it would be pavement'). It's slightly different from saying 'trottoir' means or is 'pavement' in UK English (present simple), which simply states the meaning of the word as a fact, without any imagined situation of use.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team