Would You Like to Know More About 'Would'?

05 July, 2018

In Part 1 of this program, we told you many uses of "would" in everyday speech. Today, we will talk about two more uses. We'll also look at some important elements for understanding this modal verb. Before we continue, though, let's do a short review exercise on what you learned in Part 1.

Here's how the review will work: I will give you example sentences and you will think about how each sentence uses "would." The answer options are: polite request, polite offer, reported speech, imaginary situation or repeated past action.

Listen carefully – I will use the shortened version of "would" in some of the sentences. It simply sounds like the letter "d." For example, "I would" shortened is "I'd."

OK, let's get started. Listen:

Every summer, we'd drive across the country to see family.
Would you like sugar and cream in your coffee?
She said that she would be there at 7 p.m.
If I were you, I'd bring a few bathing suits.
Hello, I'd like two tickets to New York.

Now that you have had a little practice, let's learn two more uses of "would."

Refusal to do

The first usage we will examine is about willingness – or lack of it. The word "would" can express someone's refusal to do something when used with the word "not." For this meaning, we use "will" to talk about the future and "would" for the past. Listen to two examples. The first is about the future:

I'll ask my cousin to go to the concert. But he won't go.

The word "won't" is a contraction for "will not." It shows that the speaker thinks their cousin will refuse to attend. Now, imagine that the speaker asked their cousin, and the cousin was unwilling. Listen to the statement now with the word "would":

I asked my cousin to go to the concert. But, he wouldn't go.

In addition to people, this usage also applies to things. We know that non-living things cannot really "refuse" to do something. But, we often express the malfunctioning of cars, computers and other machines in this way. In these cases, "would" again acts as the past tense of "will." Here is an example about a car with engine troubles:

Her car wouldn't start so she took an Uber to work.

And here's one about computers:

I tried several times but the program wouldn't open.

The past tense -- "would" -- shows that the people tried to use these things but they did not operate correctly.

Everday Grammar: The Many Uses of Would, Part 2
Everday Grammar: The Many Uses of Would, Part 2

Softening language

OK, let's move to the next usage. In Part 1, we told you that English speakers often use indirect language to be polite.

Indirect language can also soften the sometimes-critical sound of opinions, suggestions or reactions. Listen to two examples for comparison — the first one without "would."

I suggest that you read customer reviews before buying a new computer.

And now with "would."

I'd suggest that you read customer reviews before buying a new computer.

The word "would" helps this piece of advice sound more like a suggestion than a command.

Notice that the main verb is "suggest" – a verb we often use for giving advice. The other common verbs for this usage of "would" are: say, recommend, think, imagine and advise.

Here's another example – this one with "advise":

I'd advise you to take only four classes per semester.

Okay, we have given you many uses of "would." There are a few more. But instead of overwhelming you with information, let's look at some important elements to understanding "would" in everyday English.

‘Will' and ‘would'

One element is knowing the connection between "will" and "would."

For a few uses, the meanings of "will" and "would" are connected.

One example is in reported speech, as you may recall from Part 1. The word "would" in reported speech clauses acts like the past tense of "will" in direct speech.

The same is true when we talk about refusal to do something: The word "would" acts like the past tense of "will."

And, in polite requests and offers, "would" is the polite form of "will."

But, for other uses, there is no connection in meaning between these two words.

No relationship

It is also important to know that the different uses of "would" are unrelated. For example, the meaning of "would" in reported speech has no relationship to the meaning of "would" in expressing refusal to do something.

To know what "would" means in a statement or question, pay close attention to the context, as you did in the review at the start of the program.

Practicing ‘would'

And, don't forget to listen carefully. In spoken English, we almost always shorten "would" to just the letter "d" with personal pronouns.

Now, let's test your understanding again. I will give you examples. You think about how "would" is being used. Your choices are: willingness or softening language. Listen:

The videos you emailed me wouldn't open.
I'd say that you need more practice.
We'd suggest visiting the waterfalls on a weekday.
I tried to return the coat but the store wouldn't take it back.

Write your answers in the Comments section. You can also practice by writing your own sentences. We would love to read them!

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Uses of ‘Would'



Refusal to do something

But, he won't go.

Subject + won't + simple verb form

Her car wouldn't start.

Subject + wouldn't + simple verb form

Softening language

I'd suggest that you read the customer reviews.

Subject + would + "that"-clause

I'd suggest reading the customer reviews.

Subject + would + gerund


Words in This Story

modal verb - n. a verb that is usually used with another verb to express ideas such as possibility, necessity, and permission

willingness - n. the act of doing something or being ready to do something without being persuaded

contraction - n. the act or process of making something smaller or of becoming smaller

malfunction - v. to fail to function or work properly

customer - n. someone who buys goods or services from a business

overwhelm - v. to cause someone to have too many things to deal with

context - n. the words that are used with a certain word or phrase and that help to explain its meaning

coat - n. an outer piece of clothing that can be long or short and that is worn to keep warm or dry