would

What is it?

Would (the past form of will) is a verb that we use when there are options or possibilities.

present form past form ing form en form
will
can
shall
may
must
would
could
should
might

We put these verbs before the other verbs in the sentence.

These verbs only have a present form and a past form.

Past forms may refer to the past (this is not the present or future) or a hypothetical present or future: something we are imagining (this is not the real/likely present or future).

What does it mean?

Would means the speaker is thinking about something that isn’t happening in the present or future, and saying what they think (selecting an option or possibility).

  • These can be imaginary or hypothetical situations.
  • These can also be past situations.

 

How do we use it?

Would for the imaginary / hypothetical situations

We use would (the past form of will) to talk about options and possibilities we are imagining.

I would open the window, but I’m too tired.

future conditional tense timeline - would: modal verb - options - I would open the window

Options: (a) leave it shut (b) open it
I imagine opening it, but I won’t actually open it.

Examples

Subject will Verb Object
I would buy  a hat but I don’t have enough money. So I won’t.
She would turn off her phone but the button is broken. So she won’t.
He would go skiing but he has hurt his back. So he won’t.

Would for the past

We use wouldn’t when we talk about an option or possibility in the past that didn’t happen. We often wanted it to happen.

I tried many times but the car wouldn’t start. I conclude that it wasn’t possible.
I asked him nicely but he wouldn’t give me any pizza. He had options. He decided not to.

When we think about the past, we consider options we had at the time. We use would to say what often happened.

Time Subject would Verb Object/Place Time
When we lived in China we would use chopsticks every day.
When he didn’t read at school he would often read at home.
When she was a student she would work in the evening.

Key Point

Would shows that the speaker thinks about options or possibilities and a choice is made.

They are not thinking about the real present or future – they are thinking about the past, or something imaginary or hypothetical.

Would is a very useful word, it is will in the past form. Review these and think about how their meanings combine to give would its meaning.

or return to top.