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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.

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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

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

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)

Hello Jembut,

If I understand the context correctly, I'd say it's talking about hypothetical situation. In other words, the speaker is imagining an informal situation and is imagining what it would be like.

Hope this helps. If I've misunderstood, please explain in more detail.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I know how busy you must be and naturally I wouldn't want to take up too much of your time

Why there is Wouldn’t instead of Don’t or Won’t? Could you please give me some examples of it?

Hello amit_ck,

All three of those forms are possible here; each suggests that the speaker is thinking about the situation in a slightly different way. 'wouldn't', for example, being more hypothetical, could suggest the speaker sees it as unlikely, but in many cases it could also simply be a more polite way of making the request. (One way in which we express politeness in English is to speak about a hypothetical situation, which is considered to be less of an imposition.)

The other two forms, being more immediate, are generally less polite, though not necessarily rude.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you explain the use of "would" in this sentence?

The adjective ‘textbook‘ is used when you want to describe something done well, and done in the correct way. Usually, textbook is a noun, and it is a manual that you learn from – a ‘how to’ book. Coaches will learn their jobs by suing textbooks on football tactics and son on. When used as an adjective it means something is done in an orthodox way, as described in a textbook. So, a textbook tackle is a tackle that you learn to do when you are training; it is a perfect example of how to make a tackle. A textbook penalty would be a penalty that coaches teach you to take – probably low and hard ion the corner.

Hello Crokong,

Would is used because the speaker is not talking about a particular penalty in reality but rather an imagined perfect penalty.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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