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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

Sir, you always say would used to talk about a hypothetical situation. I'm wondering what the word "hypothetical" actually mean?

Sir, you said 'would' can be used to make statements sound tentative. Here, tentative means not sure?

Hello Gendeng,

Yes, that's the idea.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk, I want to ask. I will take your sentence here when you replied to another user's question. there is 'would' in the sentence. Does it mean tentative? In another words, would means not sure.

In British English, plural verbs are often used with third person subjects that refer to a group of people, such as 'police', 'Manchester United', etc. In other varieties of English, such as American, singular verbs would be the correct form.

Hello Jembut,

I wouldn't use the term 'tentative' to describe the meaning here. Instead, I'd say 'hypothetical' -- it shows that I'm speaking about a hypothetical situation, i.e. a situation that is not real at the moment (American English instead of British English). It might help to imagine that the sentence as a kind of second conditional: 'If we were speaking American English, singular verbs would be the correct form.'

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir. I'm just wondering whether would means possible in the following sentences? It's ambiguous on what it's used to talk about an unreal situation or to make suggestions sound less definite. I'm confused to determine that.

1. A student asking his teacher to do a lesson in grammar so he says:
It would be great to make a video about embedded clauses.

2. In British English, plural verbs are often used with third person subjects that refer to a group of people, such as 'police', 'Manchester United', etc. In other varieties of English, such as American, plural verbs would be the correct form

Hello The Learn English Team. I have read this pages and you mention that we use past tense forms to make suggestions about what might happen in the future:

If he came tomorrow, we could borrow his car.

Shouldn't this sentence should be "if he come tomorrow, we can borrow his car"? We don't know yet whether he comes. Maybe he comes or he maybe not.

Second, whats the difference between an unreal 'would' and 'would' used to make suggestions?

Hello teachers. In this phrase :
"Normally she would have texted me as soon as arrived in Thailand"
If the speaker intended to say something that would usually happen when he/she goes in Thailand, shouldn't he/she use simple present tense after 'Would'? I have learned that we can use 'Would' to express some activities that happened many times in the past, but does using "would + have + pp" which expresses the same idea? thank you

Hi Ashkan0_0,

Good question! Yes, the speaker could also say: Normally she would text me as soon as she arrived in Thailand. 'Text' in this sentence is the infinitive verb form (not the simple present tense).

If the speaker says Normally she would have texted me ..., there's a difference. It means not only that she would normally do that action (texting me), but emphasises that the action would have been completed on this occasion (or not completed, in this example), i.e. the speaker would have received her message by now (which it seems didn't happen).

You can find some more examples and exercises on our 'will have' and 'would have' page. 

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

We can't all stay in a hotel. It would be very expensive.
Is it correct to say 'We can't all stay in a hotel. It will be very expensive?' If so, what's the difference sir?

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