'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: 4.3 (44 votes)

Hello whitekrystal,

'Would' is very common when giving advice as we put ourselves in the other person's position and imagine how we *would* react if we were them. You can imagine an if-clause like 'If we needed to say this...'

There are other ways to give advice, of course, but this is a very common one.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks sir. "Would" when used to give advice, it sounds polite, doesn't it? Can "will" also be used for advice?

I will appreciate it if you can help me move all these stuff.

Hello whitekrystal,

Yes, as Peter explained, it is possible to use 'would' in a conditional structure to give advice in a polite way. Another common way of giving advice is with 'should'.

'will' is not generally appropriate for giving advice. It can be part of a wish (e.g. 'I hope you'll pass your exam'), but in that case it is part of an expression with 'I hope', which gives a flavour to what follows it.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sat, 28/10/2023 - 05:57

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Hi everyone. Could you explain what's the meaning of "would" ik this sentence?

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 whitekrystal,

It's speaking about a hypothetical situation that depends on a condition. If Man United wins the match (this is the condition), they will move up in position, more specifically four points ahead of Manchester City (this is the situation depending on the condition). It's possible to use both 'will' and 'would' in this case. The difference is that 'would' makes it more hypothetical, somehow more abstract. But the meaning is essentially the same.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thanks, Kirk. So in this case, "will" is better because the situation is real, isn't it? Before the match no one knows who will definitely win. However "would" is also possible in that sentence because we're talking about a hypothetical situation. This makes me puzzled because when imagining a situation, I usually use "would".

Hello whitekrystal,

Yes, it sounds to me as if you understand this. I wouldn't say 'will' is better, but it's certainly possible to use 'will' in this case, and I probably would have used 'will' if it were me speaking.

With conditional sentences, the way the speaker views the situation is crucial. For example, in talking about a lottery, where I have only an extremely small chance of winning, I can still talking about winning it and therefore use 'will'. It may seem completely unreasonable to do this from a purely statistical point of view, but I can choose to view it as I wish and use 'would'.

Similarly, in theory I can use 'would' when most people would choose 'will'.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Selet on Wed, 25/10/2023 - 23:39

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A: Let me help you with your homework.
B: That will/would be great.

Will or would? Which is correct in the sentence above?

Hello Selet,

Both options are perfectly fine here. It's really a question of personal preference and style – I don't see any difference in meaning.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

My friend says "will" would be wrong here. There are cases where it would sound OK. For example:
A "I'll be at your place by noon."
B "That'll be great, it will give us plenty of time to get the train".

What do you think sir?

Submitted by ShE on Mon, 23/10/2023 - 21:36

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Hello Teachers,

I have a question about this sentence:
John will be in his office. (present)
why it is present?
thank you for your help in advance

Hi ShE,

Actually, this sentence can refer to the future (e.g. John will be in his office tomorrow) or the present (e.g. John will be in his office now).

About the present meaning, we can use will to express a belief about the present. If I say John will be in his office now, I'm expressing what I believe to be true. Saying "John will be ..." (instead of a factual statement such as "John is ...") shows that I believe it to be true but I don't know it as a fact. For example, maybe I know that John is usually in his office at this time every day, but I have not actually seen him in his office right now.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Selet on Fri, 20/10/2023 - 07:05

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I'm a bit confused by these sentences. What is the difference? In what should I use them?

It will be very helpful if you provide some context.
It would be very helpful if you provided some context.

Hello Selet,

The first sentence is an example of a first conditional and the second sentence is an example of a second conditional. I'd recommend you read the explanation of these two common patterns on our Conditionals: zero, first and second page, but briefly speaking, the first one shows that the speaker imagines or sees the situation they are talking about as something that is going to happen. Perhaps, for example, it's a teacher who's giving advice to a student who is about to give a presentation.

In the second case, there are two scenarios that are most likely. The first one is the same as what I described above, but in this case the speaker is being more polite. We often use the past tense and 'would' to be more polite. The second scenario is that the speaker imagines the situation as less likely to happen, somehow less real. For example, perhaps the person they are giving this advice to isn't yet sure whether they are going to give a presentation.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thanks, Kirk. Here is a context. Someone is asking a question about English grammar in a English forum, but the questioner gives a example sentence that doesn't have any context. A forum member says "some/more context would be helpful" or "it would be helpful if you provided some context."

Could you explain how "would" works in that sentence? Second, why doesn't the writer say "it will be helpful if you provide some context?"

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."