Will vs. Would in English
Published on March 1, 2021 / Updated on November 10, 2022
Confused about when to use will and would? You’re not the only one. Lots of non-native speakers of English are confused about using these words. Some of that confusion is because people think that would is only the past tense of will. But it has lots of other uses, so let’s have a look!
We use will in three main ways:
Would is the past tense form of will. This is an irregular verb conjugation. Even though would is a past tense, we don’t only use it to talk about the past. Here are the main ways we use would:
When we talk about the present or the future, and things we think or believe are going to happen, we often use will.
We use would when we talk about the past:
We use will when we decide to do something at the same time as we’re speaking. This is in contrast to other future tenses that we use when we made the decision earlier and we are telling someone about our plans. Here are some examples with will:
When we make promises to someone, we use will.
When we are making a request, we can either use will or would. This depends on how polite we want to be; we might be polite if we’re asking someone for a really big favour, if they’re a work colleague, or if we don’t know someone that well. Look at the examples here and imagine the different contexts they are in:
We can use would to talk about something we think is unlikely to happen in the future. This can be a bit confusing for learners, because we said that would is a past tense. In English, we use past tenses to create distance between us and what we’re talking about. This might be distance in time, it might be distance in order to be polite, or it might be distance in order to say I’m imagining, or I don’t think this is going to happen. This last part is what we’re looking at now.
There are four basic types of conditional sentences in English: zero, first, second and third. We use will in the first conditional and would in the second and third.
As you might expect, the first conditional talks about things we think are going to happen in the future:
The second and third conditionals are more hypothetical, and this is why we use would. The second conditional talks about imaginary present events and unlikely future events:
The third conditional talks about past events, and imagines how they could be different:
Will you feel more confident using these words now? Would you like to learn more?