Many non-native English learners find it confusing when it comes to the uses of “would”. The word “would” has miscellaneous uses, so confusion is not unlikely. This post aims to clear the confusion. Most of the times, the source of the confusion is the perception that “would” is always used as the past form of the auxiliary verb “will”. Yes, “would” is the past form of “will”, but it has various other uses too, which have nothing to do with the fact that would is the past form of “will”. So, I want to put emphasis on this point and want you to remember it, as it will help to clear the confusions.
To understand the uses of “would”, first of all, we have to have a clear conception of different situations. Situations are the key here, as it’s going to determine whether to use “will” or “would”. The word “will” is mainly used to express plans and things that we are certain about. Now, let’s get familiar with the situations when “would” should be used instead of “will”, one by one. The most common situations when we use “would” are:
1. To describe an imaginary situation
In practical life, we talk about situations which are imagined, and in English, the word “would” is used to describe that. But confusions come with that, as “imaginary situation” gives a vibe of the future tense. To be able to recognize which is an imaginary situation and which one indicates the future situation is important. Here is an example:
She would look better with longer hair. In this example, we have imagined her with longer hair, but in reality, she has shorter hair. So, this is an imaginary situation, and we shouldn’t use “will” in this case, as the auxiliary verb “will” is used as a part of the verb to describe future situations. To give another example, she would be glad if you send this box of chocolate to her. In this one, you are not going to send her a box of chocolate, you just have imagined that, so “would” should be used.
2. To form conditional sentences
Generally, in English, there are three types of conditional sentences. In first conditional, we use “will”, but in the second and third conditional sentences we use “would”. Below are two examples of conditional sentences:
2nd conditional: if I had a magic wand, I would change some historical events.
3rd conditional: I would never have met with her if I hadn’t gone to that party.
Also, notice that both of the sentences talk about imaginary situations.
3. To express modest request and proposal
When we are in a formal situation, using “would” to form request and proposal is expected. Although, you could use “will” to form request and proposal in an informal setting. To illustrate, will you come in? This is for the informal situation. In a formal situation we should say: would you please come in? Here is a proposal: Would you like to have a cup of coffee?
4. In reported speech
In this situation use of “would” is related to the past form of “will”. Suppose, your friend told you, “I will be here at 8 o’clock.” Now, if you want to tell that to me you should say this: she told that she would be here at 8 o’clock. This is an example of reported speech and use “would” in the places of “will”.
5. To express likings, hearted and preferences for something
Usually, words, such as love, hate, prefer, like and glad are used along with “would” to describe these types of situations. A couple of examples are: I would be glad to help, I would hate to work out in the morning, I would love to travel to Europe.
6. To give an opinion on uncertain things
When we are not sure about someone’s age, we generally estimate the age. To express uncertainty, we should use “would”. For example, “I would say he is about forty”. By the way words such as, imagine, say and think go along with “would” to express these types of situations. If we are not sure about the distance between two places we should say: I think it would take forty minutes.
7. To describe past habits
In this case, it is somewhat similar with the use of “used to”, though, there is a slight difference. Look at this example: “When I was young, I would play chase with my father”. If we want to use “would” to describe past habits we should use an action verb like “play”. We shouldn’t use state verbs with “would” to describe past habits. For this reason, I can't say: when I was young, I would live in an old house, as the verb “live” is a state verb. Instead, we should say: when I was young, I used to live in an old house.
8. After the word wish
Sometimes we want incidents to occur the way we like them to occur. In those situations, “would” is used after the word wish. Here are two examples: I wish she would leave me, I wish you would be quiet for a minute.
9. To express refusal to do something
Rechel wouldn’t go to the doctor, even though she was in pain. In the sentence, Rechel’s refusal is expressed. This types of expressions are also used to describe the condition of machines. For instance, my car would not start today.
9. To express a result of some action
This is another situation when “would” is used. In this case, results and intentions are expressed with “so that or in order that”. An illustration of these types of situation is: she burned the letters so that her husband would never read them.
The situations discussed above cover almost all the uses of “would”. Creating examples which are similar to the given situations would be a great way to get better at using “would” in speaking and writing.