The use of "would"

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The use of "would"

Post  Vincent Law on Thu Apr 26, 2012 2:47 pm

Would is an auxiliary verb, a modal auxiliary verb. We use would mainly to:

- talk about the past
- talk about the future in the past
- express the conditional mood

We also use would for other functions, such as:

- expressing desire, polite requests and questions, opinion or hope, wish and regret...

Structure of Would

subject + would + main verb

The main verb is always the bare infinitive (infinitive without "to").

Notice that:

- Would is never conjugated. It is always would or 'd (short form).
- The main verb is always the bare infinitive.

The main verb is always the bare infinitive. We cannot say:
- "I would to like coffee."

Be careful! Would and had have the same short form 'd:
- "He'd finished." (He had finished.)
- "He'd like coffee." (He would like coffee.)

Use of Would

would: Talking about the past

We often use would as a kind of past tense of will or going to:

- "Even as a boy, he knew that he would succeed in life."
- "I thought it would rain so I brought my umbrella."

Using would as as a kind of past tense of will or going to is common in reported speech:

- "She said that she would buy some eggs." ("I will buy some eggs.")
- "The candidate said that he wouldn't increase taxes." ("I won't increase taxes.")
- "Why didn't you bring your umbrella? I told you it would rain!" ("It's going to rain.")

We often use would not to talk about past refusals:

- "He wanted a divorce but his wife would not agree."
- "Yesterday morning, the car wouldn't start."

We sometimes use would (rather like used to) when talking about habitual past behaviour:

- "Every weekday my father would come home from work at 6pm and watch TV."
- "Every summer we'd go to the seaside."
- "Sometimes she'd phone me in the middle of the night."
- "We would always argue. We could never agree."

would: Future in past

When talking about the past we can use would to express something that has not happened at the time we are talking about:

- "In London she met the man that she would one day marry."
- "He left 5 minutes late, unaware that the delay would save his life."

would: Conditionals

We often use would to express the so-called second and third conditionals:

- "If he lost his job he would have no money."
- "If I had won the lottery I would have bought a car."

Using the same conditional structure, we often use would when giving advice:

- "I wouldn't eat that if I were you."
- "If I were in your place I'd refuse."
- "If you asked me I would say you should go."

Sometimes the condition is "understood" and there does not have to be an "if" clause:

- "Someone who liked John would probably love John's father." (If someone liked John they would probably love John's father.)
- "You'd never know it." (for example: If you met him you would never know that he was rich.)
- "Why don't you invite Mary?" I'm sure she'd come."

Although there is always a main verb, sometimes it is understood (not stated) as in:

- "I'd like to stay. | I wish you would." (would stay)
- "Do you think he'd come? | I'm sure he would." (would come)
- "Who would help us? | John would." (would help us)

would: Desire or inclination

- "I'd love to live here."
- "Would you like some coffee?"
- "What I'd really like is some tea."

would: Polite requests and questions

- "Would you open the door, please?" (more polite than: Open the door, please.)
- "Would you go with me?" (more polite than: Will you go with me?)
- "Would you know the answer?" (more polite than: Do you know the answer?)
- "What would the capital of Nigeria be?" (more polite than: What is the capital of Nigeria?)

would: Opinion or hope

- "I would imagine that they'll buy a new one."
- "I suppose some people would call it torture."
- "I would have to agree."
- "I would expect him to come."
- "Since you ask me I'd say the blue one is best."

would: Wish

- "I wish you would stay." (I really want you to stay. I hope you will stay.)
- "They don't like me. I'm sure they wish I'd resign."

Note that all of these uses of would express some kind of distance or remoteness:

- remoteness in time (past time)
- remoteness of possibility or probability
- remoteness between speakers (formality, politeness)

would: Presumption or expectation

- "That would be Jo calling. I'll answer it."
- "We saw a police helicopter overhead yesterday morning. | Really? They would have been looking for those bank robbers."

would: Uncertainty

- "He would seem to be getting better." (less certain than: He seems to be getting better.)
- "It would appear that I was wrong." (less certain than: It appears that I was wrong.)

would: Derogatory

- "They would say that, wouldn't they?"
- "John said he didn't steal the money. | Well, he would, wouldn't he?"

would that: Regret (poetic/rare) - with clause

This rare, poetic or literary use of would does not have the normal structure:

- "Would that it were true!" (If only it were true! We wish that it were true!)
- "Would that his mother had lived to see him become president."

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Re: The use of "would"

Post  Vincent Law on Thu Apr 26, 2012 2:55 pm

Correct Use of Would

Would is the past tense form of will. It is a modal auxiliary verb. After would, infinitives are used without to.
"I would like some advice." (NOT I would to like some advice.)
"She said that she would come." (NOT She said that she would to come.)

Questions and negatives are made without do.
"Would you like to come with me?" (NOT Do you would like to come with me?)
"He wouldn’t come." (NOT He don’t would come.)

- Note that the contracted form of would not is wouldn’t.

Would and Will

Would acts as the past tense form of will in reported speech. In other cases, would is a more polite form of will.

Direct speech: "She said, ‘I will come.’"
Indirect speech: "She said that she would come."

Would is used in requests and offers. Note that would is more polite than will.
"Would you move a bit?" (More polite than ‘Will you move a bit?’)
"Would you mind opening the window?" (More polite than ‘Will you mind opening the window?)

Would can be used to talk about past habits.
"The old man would sit in a corner and talk to himself for hours."
"She would always bring us nice little gifts."

Would and used to

Both would and used to can be used to talk about past habits or repeated actions. But note that only used to can refer to past states.
"He used to be a chain smoker." (NOT He would be a chain smoker.)

The above sentence means that he is not a chain smoker at the moment, but he used to smoke a lot at some point in the past.

Would is also common in sentences referring to unreal or uncertain situations.
"I would tell you if I knew her name."
"He would have helped you if you had asked him."
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