'will' and 'would'

Level: beginner

We use will:

  • to express beliefs about the present or future
  • to talk about what people want to do or are willing to do
  • to make promises, offers and requests.

would is the past tense form of will. Because it is a past tense, it is used:

  • to talk about the past
  • to talk about hypotheses (when we imagine something)
  • for politeness.

Beliefs

We use will to express beliefs about the present or future:

John will be in his office. (present)
We'll be late. (future)
We will have to take the train. (future)

We use would as the past of will, to describe past beliefs about the future:

I thought we would be late, so we would have to take the train.

Willingness

We use will:

  • to talk about what people want to do or are willing to do:

We'll see you tomorrow.
Perhaps Dad will lend me the car.

  • to talk about typical behaviour, things that we often do (because we are willing to do them):

We always spend our holidays at our favourite hotel at the seaside. We'll get up early every morning and have a quick breakfast then we'll go across the road to the beach.

We use would as the past tense of will:

  • to talk about what people wanted to do or were willing to do in the past:

We had a terrible night. The baby wouldn't go to sleep.
Dad wouldn't lend me the car, so we had to take the train.

  • to talk about typical behaviour, things that we often did (because we were willing to do them) in the past:

When they were children they used to spend their holidays at their grandmother's at the seaside. They'd get up early every morning and have a quick breakfast. Then they'd run across the road to the beach.

Promises, offers and requests

We use I will or We will to make promises and offers:

I'll give you a lift home after the party.
We'll come and see you next week.

We use Will you … ? or Would you … ? to make requests:

Will you carry this for me, please?
Would you please be quiet?

will and would 1

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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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Average
Average: 4.2 (63 votes)

Hello Selet,

In that case, it's a way of being polite.

One important strategy for being polite in English is to make requests 'softer'. The idea is that it is impolite to make direct requests.

In this case, the commenter is requesting more information about the context and uses a second conditional to be less direct about it, which is considered more polite.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by HLH on Thu, 21/09/2023 - 06:15

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Hello
I am talking about now
example
he is very strong
I wouldn't except

this is past future or hypothetical in the present?

Hi HLH,

Do you mean "expect" (not "except")?

If so, it is a hypothetical present (an unreal present). I know that he is strong, but it is surprising to me. If I didn't know that he was strong, I wouldn't expect it.

Note that it needs an object: I wouldn't expect it/that.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Amir__760__ on Sun, 20/08/2023 - 19:52

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Hello support team,
I do appreciate your efforts to help English learners learn.
I've seen native speakers, especially in movies and series, utilize "would" and "will" interchangeably several times, but, although I'm not sure about it after checking all the English grammar books I have, it is what seems to me.
For instance, A tells B: "Are you sure?", and B answers: "I would be." However, he/she could have used 'will' since the situation isn't imagined.

Hi Amir__760__,

We're glad to hear that you find our pages useful!

I wouldn't say that "will" and "would" are interchangeable, because there are differences in meaning and usage such as those described on the page above. There may be sentences where both are grammatically possible, but they may mean different things.

It's hard to discuss these words in general because the reasons for using "will" or "would" are often only understandable in their original context. In the example you mention, there is no apparent reason why B uses "would". But that does not automatically mean that there is no reason, or that it is interchangeable with "will".

It is possible (for example) that B's intended meaning is to advise A: I would be sure if I were you (an imagined and unreal situation). That's just an example - we have no way of knowing why B used "would" here because we are just looking at words only, and they are isolated from the context in which they were said or written (e.g. who A and B are, what their social relationship is, what B's intended meaning is, what topic they are discussing, what else was said in the conversation). But that context often helps us (and speaker A as well) to interpret the meaning. 

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi, thank you for all your explanation, but I haven't gotten my answer yet. I thought that it could be advice, but it is still ambiguous to me. Here is an example from the movie Terminator:

JOHN:
Where we going?
TERMINATOR:
We have to leave the city, immediately. And
avoid the authorities.
JOHN:
Can I stop by my house?
TERMINATOR:
Negative. The T-1000 will definitely try to
reacquire you there.
JOHN:
You sure?
TERMINATOR:
I would.

Then, the robot uses a telephone booth to really make sure.

Hi Amir__760__,

OK, this context is useful and now I can see the intended meaning. When the terminator says "I would", he means "I would do that (i.e. go to John's house to try to reacquire John) if I were the T-1000". The terminator is imagining what he would do if he were in the T-1000's situation.

Obviously, he is not in the T-1000's situation, so it is an unreal situation for the terminator and that's why he uses "would".

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Sun, 13/08/2023 - 03:25

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Hello,
Could you tell me the difference among would prefer, would prefer and would rather?

Submitted by jitu_jaga on Sat, 01/07/2023 - 06:31

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Hello Peter, Kirk and Jonathon,
We saw a police helicopter overhead yesterday morning. | Really? They would have been looking for those bank robbers.

If I wrote, They would be looking for those bank robbers. Would that be incorrect?

Hello jitu_jaga,

Since the situation is in the past (yesterday morning = finished past time), the correct form is 'would have been looking'. You could use 'would be looking' to describe an ongoing situation (current/present time), which is not the case here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish

Hello Gendeng,

It is a purely a matter of style and choice. Both forms are/would be fine here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Wed, 28/06/2023 - 02:14

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Here Jack uses "would" in his response to the questioner. Could you explain why is "would" used there?

Bajingan: I want to know the difference in meaning between sentences in the form of "I never knew vs I didn't know." Could you explain?
I never knew you were coming vs I didn't know you were coming.

Chez: it's simply a nuance of meaning.
"I never knew" expresses surprise and/or emphasis.
"I didn't know" is just the normal (neutral) negative form.

Jack: I agree with Chez. I WOULD add that "I never knew you were coming" doesn't really seem natural, although it's not impossible. "I never knew" works best when it's followed by an action of long duration (or a state like "being so much fun").

Hello Gendeng,

Would is a way to express an opinion more politely. It makes it less aggressive and direct and more tentative and respectful. It's very common in English, especially in phrases introducing opinions such as 'I'd say that...', 'I'd add that...', 'I'd be of the opinion that...', 'I'd expect that...' etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Gendeng,

I'm not sure what you're asking. It means exactly what it says: more tentative, less direct, more polite. This is a question of social interaction and how language is interpreted by the interlocutors.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Gendeng,

Yes, you could use 'will'. I think 'would' is a more common choice but both are grammatically possible.

Multiple modals are often possible in a given context. For example, in the previous sentence 'Yes, you can use...' is also possible. Again, it's a question of style and tone, not grammar rules.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Selet on Sat, 17/06/2023 - 04:09

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There are a number of phrases I have often seen native speakeer use "would".

I would understand that to be...
I would interpret that as...

And each of these can also be said without using the word "would."

I understand that to be...
I interpret that as...

What is the difference between adding "would" and not adding it?

Hello Selet,

Would can add a sense of being a little more tentative in your opinion, so it is a way of being more polite or less aggressive in your opinion. You can imagine an if-clause added to the sentence:

If you asked me, I would say....

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

"If you asked me, I would interpret/understand that ..." Well, that doesn't quite make sense, because the person does ask. For example: I will ask a question.

Me: What does "openings" mean in this context? Or what is the grammatical term for this?

Would you answer "if you asked me, I would interpret that.../ I would call it...?" This doesn't make sense because I do ask here. The speaker only uses "would."

Hello Selet,

When Peter refers to imagining an 'if'-clause, he's explaining how the grammar works. The reason people use this is usually to be 'softer', in a sense, which is an extremely common and widespread strategy for being polite in English. The idea is that if you show a little doubt, this is tantamount to being less aggressive or less authoritative, which will put people at ease. This is part of being polite in English.

So yes, you're right in thinking that because the person has asked the question and so, from a certain perspective, using 'would' doesn't make sense. But I'm afraid that's how English works. I can see how this might seem strange, as there are completely different ways of being polite in other languages. But in English, this is extremely common.

Regarding possible answers to the question 'What does "openings" mean in this context?'), you are right in thinking that no one would say 'If you asked me, I would say it means 'job opportunities''. That's not actually what Peter was saying.

What Peter was saying is that many people would answer 'I would say it means 'job opportunities'', and that if that grammar seems strange to you, then it might help to imagine them saying 'If I had to guess based on what I know, I'd say it means 'job opportunities''. In that case, you can see that the second conditional structure explains the use of 'would'.

I can see how using a second conditional here seems strange, but as I've tried to make clear, this is a very common way of speaking politely in English.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thanks, Kirk. I have quite often seen native speakers use "would" in a reply to questions.

I would understand that to be...
I would interpret that as..

If I use "will", what is the difference between the two?

I would interpret that as...
I will interptret that as...

Hello Selet,

Most of the time 'would' shows politeness, though it could also show uncertainty.

'will' could be showing a decision on their part, but it's hard to say without knowing more about the context. This use strikes me as a bit unusual.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Here is context. If I substitute "would" for "will", what's the difference? For instance:

Q: What does "a fly-away look" mean here? Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn't like it.
Does it only mean "loose clothes"?

A: I would interpret it as meaning "disheveled"

Here, I substitute "would" for "will", what's the difference? "I will interpret it as meaning..."

Hello Selet,

As far as I know, 'I will interpret it ...' is not correct here in standard English.

People would typically say either 'I would interpret it to mean ...' or 'It means' or something similar, but I can't think of a situation in which 'I will interpret it ...' would be correct.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thanks, Kirk. I'm very confused by the choice between "will" and "would". Why do you use "would" rather than "will" in your sentence?
People would typically say either 'I would interpret it to mean ...' or 'It means' or something similar, but I can't think of a situation in which 'I will interpret it ...' would be correct.

Why not say "people will typically say either"/ ",...but I can't think of a situation in which 'I will interpret it ...' will be correct?"

Hello Selet,

I will interpret it to mean... needs a concrete reference point. In other words, you would need to know that you are going to do this and be describing how you will do it. For example:

Tomorrow in the exam there will almost certainly be a question asking you to interpret Moby Dick as a religious allegory. Do you have an answer ready?

Sure. I'll interpret it like this....

As you can see, it's an unusual context, which is why the use is so rare.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Selet,

Our discussion here is hypothetical, in the sense that you are asking what something would mean if you said it, or how you would phrase something if you wanted to say... Therefore would is appropriate.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Sun, 04/06/2023 - 08:23

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I want to understand the use of "would" in this sentence.Here, B uses "would" when answering the question. Could you explain how "would" works here? I usually just say "I call that..." with no "would." What's the difference?

A: If you are tired, you should go to bed.
Is this the first conditional or zero conditional for you?

B: I would call that a zero conditional.
Conditionals along the lines of 'If it rains, we'll cancel the match' are generally categorised as first conditionals.

Hi Plokonyo,

"I call that ..." is the present simple, which expresses regular actions or things of a factual nature. If you say "I call that a zero conditional", it gives the idea you do this regularly - i.e., you regularly see this particular sentence, and you regularly analyse it. It's not grammatically wrong, but it does seem unlikely for somebody to have analysed this particular sentence regularly or even once before. More likely would be something like this: I call sentences like that a zero conditional ("like this" makes the statement more general, and not just about analysing this particular sentence).

However, "I would call that ..." would be the most commonly used structure, I think. It expresses the opinion politely and gently, and also makes clear that this particular sentence is not something that B has analysed before.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thanks, Jonathan. I see your sentence use "would" here in "More likely WOULD BE something like this:..." and "However, I would call that..." WOULD BE the most commonly used structure.

Could you explain how "would" works in your sentence?

Hi Plokonyo,

It's because I'm also trying to give my opinion in a polite and non-forceful way.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thanks, Jonathan. "Would" in your sentence is not a hypothetical, isn't it? Sometimes I'm confused because native speakers usually say it's hypothetical and others say it's used to give my opinion in a polite and non-forceful way. Are both connected into one? I mean "hypothetical" and "give my opinion in a polite and non-forceful way."

Hi Plokonyo,

Yes, it could be interpreted as hypothetical, in the sense of If you asked me ... or If I were in that situation ...

I don't think there's any contradiction in these explanations. "Hypothetical" is describing the what the words mean, while "polite and non-forceful" is describing their effect on the listener/reader. Both are important in social communication.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thanks, Jonathan. Yes, it does. Does "could" in your sentence mean "be possible to be able to?" Is that right?

Yes, it could be interpreted as hypothetical = Yes, it's possibe to be able to be interpreted as..."

Submitted by snornie on Sat, 03/06/2023 - 22:59

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Thank you for this great article!

I have a question that I'm hoping you could help me clarify:

This lady is talking about events in the past. She first uses past tense: "Our leaders were corrupted and incompetent". Then her next sentence is: "Deep down we'll always have this fear that in the end it'll be the North who won."

The North did win in the end. This person is speaking about the past, but in the second sentence she's using "will" instead of "would". I believe people do this when talking about past events to make it sound like it's happening right now. But the use of "won" at the end of the second sentence, following the use of "will" is what confuses me. Are you able to clarify?

Also, would this be grammatically correct: "Deep down we always had this fear that in the end it would be the North who won".

Thank you

Hi snornie,

I'm not familiar with the context of this, so I can't see clearly what meaning the speaker intends here. Perhaps the speaker wants to give the feeling of events happening now, as you mentioned.

The speaker may have started the sentence using "will", as if the events are in our future, but changed back to the past simple for "won" because she is describing historical events. This use of "won" could be considered a mistake, from a grammatical point of view. However, speakers do not always speak in 100% grammatical ways, especially when the meaning and structure is complicated, as it is here, and especially when it is speaking rather than writing (since in speaking, we often start speaking without having fully determined exactly what we are going to say and how we are going to end the sentence or idea, whereas in writing we have more time to compose what we want to say). 

It seems enough to create the 'happening now' effect, even though the use of tenses isn't completely consistent.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by jitu_jaga on Sat, 29/04/2023 - 07:28

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Hello Teachers,
Who is knocking at the door?-That will be Tom.
Who is knocking at the door?-That would be Tom.
My question is, what is the difference between two replies? Can I understand the second reply as conditional sentence or something else or a simple presumption as first reply?

Hello jitu_jaga,

'will' can be used in this way to express a supposition that we're fairly confident about, especially if the action referred to is typical behaviour. For example, in this case, if Tom often shows up knocking on the door at this particular time of day, this use of 'will' would express that idea. But even if we just expect it to be Tom, 'will' could be used in this way in some varieties of English. In American English, which I know best, it's not used in this way; but as far as I know it's used in different British varieties.

The second sentence, with 'would', doesn't sound correct to me. Perhaps in some specific context it would be OK, but in general people would use 'would' or some other form altogether such as 'I expect it's Tom', 'It's probably Tom', 'It must be Tom', etc.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Kurk on Wed, 26/04/2023 - 08:40

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Hello,
Could you please clarify the usage of “would” in this sentence?
“I was the assistant of my cello teacher at the Music School of Tehran and I would teach the students when he was away performing in other cities, and during the summer when school was not in session.”
I don't filly understand the pair “ I was would”
Thank you,
Kurk

Hello Kurk,

'would' can be used to refer habitual actions in the past.

There's an explanation of this use of 'would' on our Past habits and Talking about the past pages. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask us on one of those two pages!

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by jitu_jaga on Wed, 19/04/2023 - 06:29

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Hello teachers!
You will know, Jack is getting married next month.
You would know, Jack is getting married next month.
In the above sentence how "would" in place of "will" changes the meaning. I mean in the second sentence does "would" is for indirectness with a hidden if clause or it is the same as"will" in the first sentence. Please clarify...

Hi jitu_jaga,

The first one (using "will") is usually used when the speaker wants to recognise the fact that the listener already knows what the speaking is telling him/her. "As you will know ..." is also very common.

The second one (using "would") is a bit unusual in this example and it's harder to see a clear meaning. It could be conditional, e.g. You would know that Jack is getting married next month if you were one of his close friends.

The phrase "you would know" is usually used when the speaker wants to recognise the listener as an expert about a particular topic (i.e., knowledgeable and trustworthy). For example:

  • A: I think Adele's new song is her best one yet.
  • B: You would know. You're her biggest fan.

"You will know", in comparison, is a simple recognition of knowing something more simple and factual. 

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by gcevallos on Sat, 01/04/2023 - 03:13

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The title of an old movie was "The man who would be king" Does it mean that the man really wanted to be a king, or that the man was destined to be king.

Hi gcevallos,

I'm not familiar with this movie, but the title potentiallly has both meanings, which makes the title quite interesting and attractive. Perhaps the author intended this play on words!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team