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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

Hi everyone. I have learnt the use of would where If I say 'if had her address, I would tell you', it means I don't have her adress, so I cannot tell you.

Well, in the sentence 'that would be amazing in the living room', does it means the same thing as above where this means 'that isn't amazing in the living room'?
A man with his wife in the shopping Mall doing some shopping and he sees a nice looking vase for sale, so he says to his wife "wow, that would be amazing in the living room.

Hello whitekrystal,

Both the sentence about the address and the sentence about the vase speak about a hypothetical or imaginary situation. In the first one, I don't have the address, but speak about what I would do if I did have it. In the second one, the man imagines having the vase in their living room and speaks about that imaginary situation.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teachers. In the sentence "...would mean...", how does 'would' work?

Questioner: Should I use 'can' or 'could' in the following sentence?
If I had superpowers, I "could" or "can" teleport to different places in a second, and I "could" or "can" save the world.

Answer: Use "could" where it means would be able to. You are imagining an unreal situation. "Can" in this sentence would mean “be able to,” and you aren’t able to do the things in your sentences!

Hello Crokong,

The author uses 'would mean' here as they are seeing the situation as an imaginary situation. They say that 'could' is the correct answer so this is the 'real' (likely) choice. 'Can' is incorrect so it is not the likely choice, assuming the student wishes to avoid errors. Thus 'would' is used.

You can imagine a hidden if-clause in the sentence: if you were to use 'can', it would mean...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter M. Can I say without 'would', and only say 'can in this sentence means be able to'?

Hello again Crokong,

I'm not sure what you mean. Please post the original sentence and your alternative and we'll be happy to comment.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Petter. You said 'if you were to use 'can', it would mean..., my question: is this a unreal (impossible) situation or a conditional form used to make suggestions less definite? I'm a bit confused

Hello again Crokong,

'If you were to use...' describes a hypothetical or unlikely situation. It has a similar meaning to 'If you used...'

The reason I used this form is that I don't think you will use 'can' since it is incorrect. It's not impossible, but you would only do it if you want to make a mistake, which is unlikely.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, I'm confused in which condition I should say:

If I know her address, I will tell you.
If I knew her address, I would tell you.

Hello Plokonyo,

Both sentences refer to the present and future. The difference is that the first first sentence (know - will) describes a real or possible situation and the second (knew - would) describes a situation which is purely hypothetical or extremely unlikely in the speaker's view.

 

You can read more about these constructions on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/conditionals-1

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/verbs-in-time-clauses-and-if-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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