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").
- 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 for Past Habit
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
Would Quiz >