'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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will and would 3

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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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Hello Stonehead1,

Would has many uses, but if we are talking about its use to describe hypothetical situations then I think seeing it as having a less than 50% likelihood in the speaker's view is accurate, and this is the same in the UK and the US, and everywhere else in the English-speaking world as far as I am aware.

 

There are some things to bear in mind, however.

First, remember that this is a subjective assessment. In other words, it is how the speaker sees the action, not how likely it really is. If I am a mad optimist then I may think my chances of winning a lottery are very high, even if they are extremely low in reality.

Second, remember that it is not the action that is unlikely per se, but the condition which causes it. For example:

1. If she said sorry, I'd forgive her.

2. I would tell you not to take the job.

In the first sentence, the forgiving is certain if the condition is met. However, the condition (that she says sorry) is unlikely in the speaker's eyes.

In the second sentence, the condition is implied: if you asked me. It is this condition which is unlikely: I would tell you not to take the job, if you asked me (but I know you won't ask me).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I appreciate your reply. I would ask one unanswered question (assuming all yes for 1),2),3) ) and one follow-up. 1) What will be a word to express, say, about "51% to 70%" likely? I think that you agreed that "will" is somehow too strong when I read threads, so I guest it will be, say, "70% to 90%(or 100%)." Will "should" be the word, or what would you suggest? 2) This is one of list of definitions for "would" from Collins Dictionary. 4. Modal Verb: You use would, or would have with a past participle, to indicate that you are assuming or guessing that something is true, because you have good reasons for thinking it. You wouldn't know him. His fans would already be familiar with Caroline. That would have been Della's car. He made a promise to his great-grandfather? That would have been a long time ago. It was half seven; her mother would be annoyed because he was so late. According to the definition here, the second example sentence, "His fans would already be familiar with Caroline," will mean (James' fans knew that Caroline is James' girlfriend, so from the news that James will marry,) his fans would already be familiar with Caroline (now.) How can this definition and example sentence fit into "hypothetical"?

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 11/09/2020 - 08:04

In reply to by StoneHead1

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Hello StoneHead1,

No, the reply is not being discussed or delayed. We are a small team here and it sometimes takes us some time to reply. Please be patient - we will get around to replying but there are other comments ahead in the queue. Posting reminders to us only delays the process.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again StoneHead1,

1) I don't think you can put percentages on words in this way. More likely than not vs less likely than not is the distinction; anything more specific than this really subjective and a question of style and rhetoric, and can be expressed though lexical choice, intonation, facial expression etc.

2) In my earlier answer I began by saying 'Would has many uses...'. Expression hypothetical meaning is one use, but there are others, as outlined on this page. The Collins definition/explanation/summary is an example of a different use. Of course, there is often an underlying concept which ties the various uses together, but languages develop organically so that the way a word is used may be quite far from its original conceptual root.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi The reason my prior reply was deleted seems well to explain the identity of this site and your unethical writing. Very disappointing. Please educate right.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 09:04

In reply to by StoneHead1

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Hello Stonehead1,

Your comment was read and considered. It was not published in the comments section because it was not a language-related comment, but rather a message to the team who run the site.

 

As I said, we are a small team here at LearnEnglish providing a service free of charge for many users around the world. It sometimes takes a few days to answer questions and we ask only for patience from our users.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 10:13

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Hi everyone. What does "would" mean in the sentence "...would mean"? A: If I had superpowers, I "could" or "can" teleport to different places in a second, and I "could" or "can" save the world. So, should I use “could” or “can”? B: Good question. Use could: “ … or in the result clause, where it means would be able to.” “If I had superpowers, I could teleport to different places in a second, and I could save the world!” 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,

I'm afraid I'm not sure I understand all of your questions. I'll answer what I can, but please ask again if I've missed something.

In A, 'could' is correct and 'can' is not. This is because you are clearly talking about an imaginary or hypothetical situation ('If I had ...' shows this), and in such a situation, you need to use 'would' or 'could' in the other clause.

As I stated earlier, 'can' is not correct when speaking about an unreal situation.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk, I'm sorry for the confusion. In the sentence "Can" in this sentence would mean “be able to", why is the word "would" used here?

Hello Crokong,

I'm sorry, but I don't understand your question. Could you please first write out the complete the sentence you are asking about, then tell me which word or phrase you are asking about, and then ask the question about it.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Sun, 30/08/2020 - 10:47

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Hello. I'm wondering why the if-clause in the following doesn't use a past form as a second condtional? And how does "would" work? It would help if you give an axample sentence. It’ll be many decades before we see a Premier League title race with such a dramatic finish, though the quality wasn’t always that high. Both sides did a Devon Loch at different stages. I’d be surprised if that happens this year. Shouldn't the sentence be: It would help if you gave an example sentence. I would be surprised if that happened this year.

Hello Gendeng,

I'm not sure where these sentences are from, but if they are things you heard native speakers say, they're probably just mistakes -- when we speak, we often change our thinking as we speak and so we sometimes use non-standard forms. You can even find non-standard forms such as these in writing, but I wouldn't take them as models.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Crokong on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 07:09

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Hi everyone. How does "would" work in this sentence? A: I heard a comentator saying "picture book goal", then what does "picture book" mean in fooball? B: Well, if something is ‘picture book’ it suggests that it is something very beautiful – maybe almost perfect – and so a ‘picturebook goal’ would be a beautiful goal. Thanks
Hi Crakong '... so a ‘picturebook goal’ would be a beautiful goal.' The speaker uses 'would' in this sentence to talk about something hypothetical or imaginary. They are probably thinking something like: '... if someone said 'a picturebook goal' it would mean a beautiful goal'. Speaker B uses this hypothetical structure because 'a picturebook goal' is not a very common phrase. They are saying that you're not likely to hear the phrase but if someone did say that, it would mean 'a beautiful goal'. Best wishes Jo LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dwishiren on Mon, 24/08/2020 - 16:32

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Hello sir. Does the use of the conditional "would" here give advice? I read Peter's explanation here and say: "Will" would be used if the situation were real". I have learnt conditional sentences like "If I knew, I would tell you" (the fact at present: he/she doesn't know). Is it the same as this explanation? "Will" would be used if the situation were real. (The fact at present: "will" is not used).

Hello Dwishiren,

My explanation describes a hypothetical situation, similar to the conditional form you mention: If you used this, it would mean...

It's quite common for the if-clause to be omitted like this:

I'd phone him and explain the problem (if I were you).

She'd be very happy (if you invited her)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter M. So, the sentence: "If you used this, it would mean...", In reality, you don't use this. Am I right? "Will" would be used if the sentence was real". In reality, the sentence was not real. Am I right? I'd phone him and explain the problem (if I were you). In reality, I'm not you. She'd be very happy (if you invited her). In reality, you don't invite her.
Thanks, Peter M. I'm still unclear about the sentence "will" would be used if the sentence was real", why not say "will" will be used if the sentence is real"? "If you used this, it would mean...", Does it mean that we don't know whether you use or not, we're just imagining the possibility

Hello Dwishiren,

You could use will to give advice like this. I chose would because I imagine we're describing a hypothetical situation. If you asked me about what you should say during a meeting tomorrow then I would use will because we would be talking about a real situation and not just speaking hypothetically.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hayder991 on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 04:17

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Hey, Would anyone of our best teachers in this amazing website tell me what's the difference between a real and a hypothetical situation in more details please cause that's the key to understanding the difference between will and would .? Does a real situation mean that it is planned situations in real life so we use 2nd conditional regardless of the possibility of them happening or not ? I've heard that for imagined situations and would , It's not that they are possible or impossible -- it's that we are showing that we aren't thinking of them as real situations, at least for the moment. what does that mean please?

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 09:04

In reply to by Hayder991

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Hello Hayder991,

Real in this context means something that we consider possible, likely or plausible.

Unreal means the opposite.

 

Sometimes the choice is clear:

If I were a dog, I'd spend all day in the garden.

I'm not a dog and so this is clearly an unreal situation!

When I finish, I'll give you a call.

I know at some point I'll finish, so it's just a question of time.

 

Sometimes the choice is a question of perspective:

If I win the lottery, I'll buy a new house.

I'm an optimist. I think there's a chance of this.

If I won the lottery, I'd buy a new house,

I don't see this as a realistic possibility.

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter, Here are some situations in which " would " was used instead of "will". would you please clear it up for me? 1- 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. 2- this conversation from a movie: A- How much longer are you in this motel? B- 2 weeks. A-you now the offer still stands, my house doors always open to you and your family. B- you're very generous but there are five of us, we wouldn't do that to you and your honey. 3- 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. 4- this dialogue between 2 friends: A : Are you ok? What's going on with you?. Anything I could do to help? B- you konw what, A cup of coffee would be much appreciate it right now. A-That's it , you could have mine. it's over there on the table. 5- I don't think Danny would ever steal from the company. I think he's being setup. Thank you very much in advance for your help...

Hello Hayder991,

In situations 1, 2, 3 and 5, 'would' is used to speak about a hypothetical or unreal situation. In other words, they are situations that the speaker is imagining. Situation 4 is similar and note how 'would' is used to make an indirect (and therefore polite) request here.

In the future, could you please tell us what you think about each of these, and then we can confirm them for you? Think of it as an opportunity for you to try to make sense of the sentences using the explanations on the page.

Thanks in advance for your understanding.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Akihiko520 on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 18:42

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Hi, Sentence 1:It would be wrong to describe society purely in economic terms. Sentence 2: The slightest sound would break his concentration. For these two sentences, could I use the simple present tense? Sentence 3: I think that getting a job would give him his pride back. For Sentence 3, could I use the simple future tense (will)? Thanks for your help teachers.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 08:32

In reply to by Akihiko520

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Hello Akihiko520,

You can use the simple present in your first two sentences, but there is a change in meaning. If you say It is wrong... and The slightest sound breaks... then you are talking about generally true situations; if you use would then you are speculating about a possible (but unlikely) concrete situation.

 

In the third sentence, will is grammatically possible but, again, the meaning changes. Would describes an imaginary, unlikely or hypothetical situation; will describes a real, likely or plausible situation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, Thank you for your prompt reply. I think that getting a job would give him his pride back. - Could I say that one possible context in which this is said is that the speaker thinks that "him" getting a job is unlikely? The slightest sound would break his concentration --- For this sentence, I can't think of a possible context. Could you give me one example? Thanks so much.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 21/08/2020 - 08:33

In reply to by Akihiko520

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Hi again Akihiko520,

Yes, one possible context is that the speaker thinks the person is unlikely to get the job for whatever reason.

 

For the second sentence, it's enough that the speaker thinks that there is little chance of any sound, but that it would break his concentration in the unlikely event of any sound occurring.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cms10 on Mon, 17/08/2020 - 05:58

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Would you carry this for me please? In this sentence, would there be any difference between "would" and "could? Thanks a lot.

Hello cms10,

Would expresses a request. It means the speaker wants to be carried and wants the other person to do it.

Could expresses ability. It means the speaker wants to know if the other person is capable of carrying him or her. Of course, requests can be oblique rather than direct, so a question with could may also be a request, depending on the context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MarciaBT on Sun, 16/08/2020 - 16:56

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Hello. There are two questions that I find confusing. Question 1 - "The meeting must be over by now." - Could I say the meeting will be over by now? Question 2 - "It is in the nature of things that bureaucrats will measure success in terms of the numbers." Would it also be acceptable to say "...bureaucrats measure...."?

Hello MarciaBT,

1. You could use will or must here. Will expresses a belief or prediction. Must expresses a conviction based on what you already know. Must has a sense of 'I can't believe this would not be true'.

 

2. Yes, both will and the present simple are possible here. Will is a prediction; it expresses what the speaker believes. The present simple is used to describe typical or normal actions or states.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Santiago0227 on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 18:44

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Hello teachers, I understand that this may not be the most appropriate platform for me to ask questions about sentences that I got from newspaper articles, but I really have great difficulty in understanding the grammar structure of the following sentences. I would be very grateful if you could offer me some help. 1. "Brussels’ planned “gateway” is designed to ensure that member states’ apps can share information about people who have tested positive and are travelling to other parts of the bloc. It will work by connecting national apps to a server in Luxembourg which would then distribute the anonymised data to the relevant member states." Why is “will” used in the first part of the sentence ("It will work by connecting...") and “would” in the relative clause ("which would then distribute...")? 2. France’s “StopCovid” app was launched in June and works by using Bluetooth to log contacts when people stand less than one metre from each other for 15 minutes or more. If a positive Covid-19 case is recorded by the app, people who have been in contact with the anonymised person are sent a warning. Could I say "....will be sent a warning." instead?

Hello Santiago0227,

1. I have no idea why the author switches between will and would in this way. It does not seem a well-constructed sentence, and may well have been the result of a lack of proofreading.

2. Grammatically, you could use either form, but there is a difference in meaning. If you say are sent then you describing a system which is already functioning. If you say will be sent then you are describing a possible future event. It sounds as if the system has not yet been used. Given that the earlier part of the paragraph makes it clear that the system is already up and running, are sent seems much more consistent here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir, Thank you for answering my question with such a detailed explanation! I understand that simple future tense, as well as the simple present tense, can be used to describe habits/characteristics. For example: The Olympic stadium in Sydney will/holds 110,000. Could I say that "will be sent a warning" can be used to describe the characteristic of the system and also conveys the meaning that the system is already in place? Thanks.

Submitted by anurat227 on Thu, 13/08/2020 - 16:00

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hi, Can I say "typically pays" instead of "will pay" in this sentence? Under a subscription model, consumers will typically pay a monthly fee to access the online library. Secondly, I saw this sentence from a website on the use of conditionals. Could I say "will be inappropriate" or "is inappropriate" instead of "would be inappropriate"? There are occasions where a remote conditional would be inappropriate even though I know that the event is actually false. Thank you so much.

Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 15:00

In reply to by anurat227

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Hello anurat227,

You could say 'typically pay' (not 'pays') and that would be correct and mean the same thing.

I agree with you: 'is inappropriate' works better there.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AsahiYo20 on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 11:49

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Hi Sir, Hope you are doing well. 1. It's not likely to happen but I wouldn't rule out the possibility. - Could I say "won't" instead? 2. Taking action without knowing all the facts would not be a prudent course. - Could I say "is not" instead?

Hello AsahiYo20,

If you replaced 'is not likely to' with 'won't', the sentence wouldn't make a lot of sense because 'won't' suggests you are sure, but the second half suggests that you aren't. It would be better to leave it as is.

It's possible to replace 'wouldn't' with 'won't', but it would only be appropriate in a different context. If you would like to explain the context, we can give you more specific advice on that.

For sentence 2, yes, you could, though as with my second comment above, only in a specific situation that's different from situation you would use 'would not' in.

If you have any other questions similar to these, could you please explain the situation or context more? It's difficult for us to give a quick answer without knowing more.

Thanks in advance.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Actually I saw these sentences when I was looking up the dictionary, so I am not sure about the exact context. But I would be grateful if you could further explain the difference. 1. 1st Sentence - If this is an answer to a question of whether I will do something in the future or a company will adopt some measure, would the use of “wouldn’t rule out” be appropriate in this sentence? Actually I can’t think of any context in which “won’t rule out” would be a better choice, because I think the degree of conviction would be too strong in this sentence. Could you give me some examples of “won’t” in this context? 2. 2nd Sentence - Is “would not” more likely when giving advice to people? Am I correct to say that “is not” would be more likely if the sentence talks more generally about the problems with taking action without knowing all the facts? Thanks teacher.

Hi AsahiYo20,

I'll copy the sentences here for easy reference.

1a. It's not likely to happen but I wouldn't rule out the possibility.

1b. It's not likely to happen but I won't rule out the possibility.

You're right that 1b is more definite than 1a. For example, a politician might say 1b about whether or not they will run for election. 1b sounds like an official declaration of the speaker's intention. 1a, on the other hand, is a hypothetical statement (i.e. without any immediate practical implications). So, as Kirk mentioned, which one we would use is really dependent on the context.

2a. Taking action without knowing all the facts would not be a prudent course.

2b. Taking action without knowing all the facts is not a prudent course.

Yes! Both 2a and 2b may be giving advice to someone about what not to do. Using would makes the advice less direct but more polite. Yes, 2b may be more general. Again, though, it's hard to say without the context :)

I hope that helps.

Best wishes,

Jonathan 

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by PabloTT on Sat, 08/08/2020 - 01:54

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When I was looking up the meaning of "ill afford", I saw this explanation: "If you say that someone can ill afford to do something, or can ill afford something, you mean that they must prevent it from happening because it would be harmful or embarrassing to them" I notice that it uses "...would be harmful...". Could I say "will be harmful" instead? Thanks a lot teachers!

Hello PabloTT,

The author uses would here because the situation they are describing is not a real situation but is hypothetical.

Will would be used if the situation were real. It would not just be describing something in general or theoretical terms, but would be describing an actual situation where there was a possibility of a choice being made.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir, Thanks for your reply. Am I correct to say that it is hypothetical in the sense that when writing this sentence, the author is not referring to any particular situation in the real world?

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 08:06

In reply to by PabloTT

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Hello again PabloTT,

Yes, that's right.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cms10 on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 11:36

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Hi, I would like to ask two questions. Grateful if you could help. 1. "He wouldn't apologize. He knew he was in the right" - Does the use of "wouldn't" instead of "didn't" convey an extra meaning that he was unwilling to apologize? 2. "With more emphasis on biliteracy, failing to be proficient in English would compromise academic performance and undermine the chance of getting into a post-secondary institution" - Could I use "compromises" or "will compromise" instead of "would compromise"?

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 15:06

In reply to by cms10

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Hello cms10,

Yes, that's right: 'wouldn't' means he was unwilling in sentence 1. The alternatives you ask about in sentence 2 might work or might not -- it depends on the context. If, for example, the context is one in which you are speaking of a hypothetical situation, 'would' would probably be more appropriate.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply teacher! Regarding Sentence 2, if it is talking about a general social phenomenon, would "compromises" or "will compromise" be better?