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'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?

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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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Comments

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

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

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

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

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