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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

Sir, in this conversation, this is clearly showing a real situation which is John is coming to visit, but why use "would"? Shouldn't the sentence instead be "a hotel will be too expensive".

John is coming to visit. He could stay with us. A hotel would be too expensive.

Hi whitekrystal,

Right, John's coming to visit is a real action. But the comments about the hotel are separate from that action (coming to visit), and where John will stay is not yet confirmed (i.e. the speaker is speaking hypothetically). Using would shows that the speaker is imagining the cost of the hotel. It's like saying: A hotel would be too expensive if we booked one for him, so let's not do that.

You're right, they could also use will and say a hotel will be too expensive. This meaning of will is to say what you think will happen in the future. It emphasises (more than using would) that you are quite certain that the hotel will be too expensive. 

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir. I have learnt 'would' used to talk about a future situation is impossible.

Six o'clock would be a good time to meet. In this sentence, it means a good time is impossible to meet six o'clock. So 'would' means impossible.

In my understanding right?

Hi whitekrystal,

Would is often used to show a hypothetical situation (e.g. I would give you a lift, but my wife has the car today). Is that what you mean by an impossible situation?

If you say Six o'clock would be a good time to meet, yes - it could be a hypothetical situation that isn't possible. But we would need to add more information to show that, e.g. Six o'clock would be a good time to meet, but there's no meeting room available at that time.

But in your sentence, it's more likely that the speaker uses would simply for politeness. Using would makes the speaker sound polite because the suggestion of the meeting time is hypothetical (i.e. the meeting time is not yet confirmed, and the meeting will happen only if the other person confirms that six o'clock is OK). The speaker isn't forcefully stating what time to meet.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. In your sentence, you say 'would need', so what does 'would' mean?

Second, can I say 'six o'clock will be a good time to meet' if the meeting time is yet confirmed? Is there not a difference?

Hi whitekrystal,

I said we would need to add more information (to show that it is an impossible situation) using would, because I think that is an unlikely situation (i.e. I don't think it's likely that the speaker means that meeting at 6 o'clock is impossible). 

Yes, you could say six o'clock will be a good time to meet, using will. But as a suggestion, this is more forceful and may be less polite than using would. Using would is less forceful and more polite, because by presenting the meeting time as hypothetical, the speaker shows that he/she wants to hear the other person's opinion about it (i.e. it's hypothetical because it depends on the other person's confirmation). Using will doesn't give that idea of wanting to hear from the other person.

It's tricky, but I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. I'm still unclear. In your sentence 'would need', is there an implied if-clause? But we would need to add more information if it were an impossible situation (in reality, my sentence "six o'clock would be a good time to meet" expresses a politeness). Is my understanding right?

In the sentence 'would need", does the 'would' state an unreal situation or make suggestions or perhaps tentative?

Hi whitekrystal,

Yes, that's right. Also, yes: we would need to add more information is an unreal situation. You can understand it as having an implied if clause as well: ... if the speaker really meant that meeting at 6 o'clock was impossible. It is tentative, because would shows that the suggestion is conditional on us knowing exactly what the speaker wanted to say in this situation.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I read comments on this page and I see Peter M using "would" in the sentences "I would not use..." and "another, very polite, alternative would be this". My question is how does " would" work in this context?

Questiner: Could you please let me know which one below is correct?
Situation: at the end of a business email
1. I hope this helps.
2. I hope it helps.
3. Hope this helps.
4. Hope it helps.
5. I hope this helps you.
Any difference? And why?

Peter M. replied:
All of those are grammatically possible, though (2) is rather awkward and I would not use that one.
It's really a question of style and appropriacy. For a business letter a formal style is generally preferable, so I would suggest that (5) and (1) are the best choices. The others are rather informal so should be avoided unless the letter is intended to be informal.
Another, very polite, alternative would be this:
I hope this is helpful to you. Please let me know if you need anything else/anything more.

Hello Plokonyo,

'Would' is used to indicate politeness in several ways. It describes hypothetical situations and so has a more tentative meaning than alternative forms, meaning it is less direct and so more polite:

What do you want? [very direct]

What would you like? [tentative, less direct, more polite]

 

You can often see would as being part of a conditonal using an implied unreal/unlikely if-clause. This is another way to make the sentence more tentative and hence more polite:

I would not use... (if I were in this situation)

another, very polite, alternative (if you wanted one) would be this

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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