Modal Verbs I – Would vs. Will

Would, should and could are known as auxiliary verbs or modal verbs.  They are the past tense of will, shall, and can. In this post, we will show you detailed examples of when you should use “would.”  At the bottom of the post, there are links to webpages discussing the uses of “will” versus “would.”  There are also links to quizzes.

modal verbs


Would is the past tense of will.  It can be used in many ways:

  1. To ask questions:
    Would you like to go to the movies?  (Do you want to go to the movies?)
    Would you please give me back my book now?  (Please give me back my book now.
  2. Use it with question words (who, what, when, where, why, how):
    How would you like the money, in large bills or smaller ones?
    What would you think if I applied for that job?
  3. As a polite way to ask for something:
    I would like to go to the movies, please.   (I want to go to the movies, please.)
    I would like you to pay more attention in class.   (I want you to pay more attention in class.)
  4. For hypothetical situations in the past – To show a different response if the past had been different:
    I would have called you if I had known you were finished with the meeting.  (I didn’t know that you were finished with the meeting, so I did not call.)
    I would have forgotten my appointment if you hadn’t reminded me.  (You reminded me so I did not forget the appointment.
  5. For a hypothetical situation in the future:
    Should I win the lottery, I would pay for your tuition.
  6. Indicating the future likelihood of something happening relative to a past action:
    We figured they would arrive in time for dinner and so we would be ready for them.
  7. As a nicer way to say something that otherwise may cause an argument (something that is controversial):
    I would have to say that he is not very intelligent.
  8. To show habitual or repetitive past action:
    My cat would scream whenever I would leave the house.
    She always seemed to be happy for a just a split second, then she would be really sad again.
  9. To indicate a preference  between multiple choices:
    I would sooner eat my words than admit I was wrong.
    I would rather stay home alone than go to the party with her.
  10. To show a preference when there is no other choice:
    I would do the work later if I could.
  11. To indicate a wish or desire:
    Mom wished that we would stay with her.
  12. For and intention or plan:
    Mark said he would go to the store.
  13. To express doubt:
    It would seem she went to the library.  (She probably didn’t go to the library, but rather, went somewhere else.)

Click these links to learn the differences between using will and would: