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Would

Would comes first in the verb phrase (after the subject and before another verb):

Dad would sing to us every evening.

Would cannot be used with another modal verb:

When Tracy opened the door, she thought she would find an empty room.

Not: … she thought she would might find an empty room. or … she thought she might would find an empty room.

Negative form

The negative form of would is wouldn’t. We don’t use don’t, doesn’t, didn’t with would:

There wouldn’t be any food in the house.

Not: There didn’t would be any food in the house.

We use the full form would not in formal contexts or when we want to emphasise something:

Your father would not approve.

Question form

The subject and would change position to form questions. We don’t use do, does, did:

Would that be a good idea?

Not: Does this would that be a good idea?

Wouldn’t that be a good idea?

We can use would and wouldn’t in question tags:

She wouldn’t be any help, would she?

They would enjoy that, wouldn’t they?

Would: uses

Requests

We often use would to make requests. It is a more polite and indirect form of will.

  • Will you make dinner? (direct)
  • Would you make dinner? (less direct)

Conditional sentences

We often use would (or the contracted form ’d) in the main clause of a conditional sentence when we talk about imagined situations:

If we had left earlier, we would have been able to stop off for a coffee on the way.

If we went to Chile, we’d have to go to Argentina as well. I’d love to see both.

See also Conditionals: other expressions, If: Conditions, Unless

Habitual actions in the past

We use would to refer to typical habitual actions and events in the past. This is usually a formal use and it often occurs in stories (narratives):

I had a friend from Albany, which is about 36 miles away, and we would meet every Thursday morning and she would help us.

Then he would wash; then he would eat his toast; then he would read his paper by the bright burning fire of electric coals.

Warning:


We can’t use would in this way to talk about states. In these cases, we say used to instead of would:

I used to live in Melbourne when I was a kid.

Not: I would live in Melbourne when I was a kid.

Talking about the future in the past

We use would to talk about the future in the past. The speaker looks forward in time from a point in the past (underlined below):

When I was young I thought that in years to come I would be really tall.

When I broke my leg, I thought I would never dance again.

Reported clauses

We use would as the past form of will in reported clauses.

Direct: ‘I’ll pay for the food,’ said Tom.

Reported: Tom said that he would pay for the food.

Weather forecast: There will be clear skies in the morning but it will be cloudy for the afternoon.

Reported: The weather forecast said that there would be clear skies in the morning but that it would be cloudy for the afternoon.

Willingness in the past

We use would to talk about willingness in past time situations. We usually use the negative form wouldn’t in this case:

The CD wasn’t working so I brought it back to the shop but they wouldn’t give me my money back because they said the box had already been opened.

Being less direct

We often use would with verbs such as advise, imagine, recommend, say, suggest, think to make what we say less direct.

advise: I’d advise you to keep working on your grammar.

imagine: I’d imagine it can’t be easy for you.

recommend: I’d recommend that you try this size. (formal)

say: I’d say you are about 40.

suggest: We’d suggest that you take this route. It’s more scenic. (formal)

think: It’s much further than Dublin, I would think.

Would or will?

We can use would as a more formal or polite alternative to will in requests. We often use the phrase would you mind + –ing in polite requests.

Will you give me a wake-up call at 7 am, please?

Would you mind giving me a wake-up call at 7 am, please?

Will you excuse me just one second?

Would you excuse me just one second?


Using would makes the request more formal and polite.


Will and would can both refer to willingness. We use will for present and future time and would, usually in the negative, for past time:

John will carry your suitcase. It’s far too heavy for you. (present)

The taxi driver wouldn’t take more than four in the car. (past)

Warning:

There are a number of phrases with would where will cannot be used:

Would you like your steak well cooked?

Not: Will you like your steak well cooked?

Would you mind introducing me to him?

Not: Will you mind introducing me to him?

Would you rather pay by credit card?

Not: Will you rather pay by credit card?

December 31, 2016

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