'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?

will and would 1

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will and would 2

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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.

Expressions with would 1

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Expressions with would 2

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Submitted by Selet on Mon, 08/03/2021 - 18:44

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In the sentence "it would be...", Could you tell me what "would" funtions? A. Is it "May I know who you are ?" or "May I know who are you?" Thanks! VB. The first one is correct. 'May I know who are you?' is not correct in standard British English; instead, it would be 'May I know who you are?'.

Hello Selet,

We use would to describe a hypothetical or imaginary situation. It's very common when a person is giving advice about a hypothetical situation, as opposed to a real situation which has occurred.

 

The correct form is 'May I know who you are?'

This is an example of an indirect question. You can read more about these here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/questions-and-negatives

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, could you explain more clearly what is meant by giving advice about a hypothetical situation? Give me another example so that I can understand it

Submitted by Basheer Ahmed on Thu, 04/03/2021 - 05:54

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Hello British Council Team, I am a little confused about how "Will" can be used for Present in the concept of Belief i.e: "John will be in his office."; could you please clarify it with more examples? Thank you.

Hello Basheer Ahmed,

We can use 'will' when we're certain or confident about a present situation. If I say 'John will be in his office', it means I'm quite sure that he is in his office. This could be because he is normally there at this time and I expect today to be normal, it could be that he told me he would be there, it could be that I've just spoken with him -- there are many different reasons I might be sure. Note that it's the speaker who decides if they are sure.

I could also say 'John must be in his office' or 'He has to be in his office' or 'I'm sure he's in his office' and they all mean much the same thing.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Jembut on Thu, 25/02/2021 - 14:14

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How does 'would' work here? It looks like it's a past form of will. What do you thing I'm right? Such a plain would bd disastrous. To ask Joe would be a big mistake.

Hell Jembut,

Your first sentence has several errors, but as far as would goes, both sentences describe hypothetical situations in the future. You can think of them as having impled if-clauses: if we did it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

Submitted by Gendeng on Thu, 25/02/2021 - 08:03

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

Submitted by Jembut on Tue, 23/02/2021 - 18:58

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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

Submitted by Dwishiren on Mon, 22/02/2021 - 19:37

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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?

Submitted by Ashkan0_0 on Mon, 22/02/2021 - 17:41

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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

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sun, 21/02/2021 - 04:08

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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?

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sun, 21/02/2021 - 02:24

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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

Submitted by Crokong on Sat, 20/02/2021 - 05:39

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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

Submitted by Plokonyo on Thu, 18/02/2021 - 06:24

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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

Submitted by Gendeng on Tue, 16/02/2021 - 17:27

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Hi everyone. I was reading my grammar book on "how to use 'the' in names of football teams" and saw 'would' used in the sentences "would refer" and "...would be the equivalent of...", so how does 'would" work in this context? Here's the sentence: I think you’ll find that the definite article is dropped if the nickname is an extension of the town it relates to. Obviously Wolves is a shortened version of Wolverhampton, and you’d never refer to “The” Wolverhampton. Similarly, West Ham United are known as “The Irons”, and you would refer to them as “The” Irons, but just “United”, where United is an extension of the town name, West Ham. Referring to “The United” would be the equivalent of referring to “The West Ham” or “The Dallas”. Thank you

Hi Gendeng,

Would is used here because the writer is talking about an imagined situation - a situation when somebody wants to refer to a football team. It's not discussing any particular real sentence that somebody said or will say on a real occasion.

Using would is not the only way the speaker can frame this information. The speaker could, for example, also use the present simple: you refer to them as ... it's the equivalent of ... . The present simple is used for factual statements. But, it may sound like the writer is being bossy by telling the reader what they must do. So, the writer may use would here to avoid sounding bossy (i.e. to give the reader advice, in a less direct way).

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. So, the 'would' here makes a suggestion less definite and so more polite, right? 'Would' makes us less dogmatic of ourself. Referring to "the United" would be the equivalent of referring to "the West Ham" or "the Dallas."
Thanks, Jonathan. You said "less direct way", what meant by 'less direct' in the use of would as in the following sentence? Referring to “The United” would be the equivalent of referring to “The West Ham” or “The Dallas”.

Hi Gendeng,

Compare these two sentences:

  • Referring to “The United” is the equivalent of referring to “The West Ham”
  • Referring to “The United” would be the equivalent of referring to “The West Ham”

The writer of this sentence seems to be answering a question from somebody else.

In the first sentence, the present simple states the misunderstanding clearly and factually. But that might be too direct because it clearly shows that the person who said 'The United' was wrong. It could be embarrassing.

In the second sentence, using would is less direct because using would frames the situation of saying this as just an imagined (not real) situation, i.e. the mistake of saying 'The United' is not necessarily one that happened or happens in real life.

Best regards,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Jonathan. So, "would" in this sentence makes suggestion less direct, and so more polite, isn't it? Can we also say the sentence with an implied if-clause? If you refer to 'The United', it would be the equivalent of referring to 'The West Ham"

Hi Gendeng,

Yes, that's right, and yes - we can also say it using the if clause, as you suggested (but in your example the clause is stated, not implied). That also makes the suggestion less direct and more polite.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Jonathan. In the sentence "if you referred to 'The United', it would be the equivalent of referring to 'The West Ham', in reality, you don't refer to 'the United', so it's not the equivalenf of referring to 'the West Ham'. It looks weird, I think. My book says type 2 conditional can make setences less definite/less direct/less likely and can therefore have a nuance of politness. So, I can say: If you used this word, it would mean... If I said X if 1 wrote that sentence. In my sentences above those can happen in the future, can't they? It's a slight remoter possibility. It doesn't mean the same as a conditional form stating something that doesn't happen or is impossible such as: If I had lots of money, I would buy a big house with a garden. (= I don't have lots of money, so this doesn't happen) If I were a bird, I could ear worms. (= this is impossible) Is my understanding right?

Hi Gendeng,

The sentence could mean either of those things: (1) that saying that incorrect sentence is possible but unlikely to happen (i.e. unlikely because the grammar is incorrect), or (2) that saying that sentence is impossible. Meaning 2 is from the point of view of normative grammar use. Both of these meanings make sense in the context of what this person is trying to say, i.e. to advise people not to refer to 'the United', and they both sound polite, as you mentioned.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Wed, 10/02/2021 - 06:41

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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

Submitted by whitekrystal on Wed, 10/02/2021 - 03:35

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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

Submitted by Plokonyo on Tue, 09/02/2021 - 05:45

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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

Submitted by Gendeng on Mon, 08/02/2021 - 07:45

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My friend is working and I would like to give him a question like the following. In this situation, should I use "will" or "would"? What will/would you do if you are/were fired from your job?

Hello Gendeng,

You could use 'will' and 'are' or 'would' and 'were'. If you used 'will' and 'are', it would suggest that her firing is more likely or possible -- perhaps she's already been warned this could happen, for example.

If you used 'would' and 'were', her firing is seen as more imaginary, so it would seem less likely.

Note that it is the speaker's perception of the situation that determines which form should be used.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk. You said: If you used "will" and "are", it would suggest ... If you used " would" and "were", it would suggest ... Why did't you say "if you use ..., it will suggest ...?"