Word Choice: Will vs. Would
  • 4-minute read
  • 9th July 2020

Word Choice: Will vs. Would

The words “will” and “would” are related, leading some people to use them interchangeably. But these terms have different meanings and should be used in different contexts. So to help you avoid errors, in this post, we will look at how to use these words correctly in your writing.

What Do “Will” and “Would” Mean?

The word “will” has several meanings and can either be a noun or a verb. Here, though, we will focus on its use as a modal (or “helper”) verb.

This means we’re looking at how to use “will” alongside another verb, typically to discuss things in the future tense. It is also sometimes used in the present tense (but never the past tense).

“Would,” meanwhile, is often the past tense of “will.” But we can also use this word to form conditional sentences and to make polite requests.

To help you understand how these words are used – and when you should use “would” instead of “will” – we’ve prepared a quick guide to how these terms are used in different contexts, including:

  • Expressing certainty about the future.
  • Discussing intentions and willingness to act.
  • Making offers, requests, and promises.
  • Talking about habitual or typical behaviors.
  • Forming conditionals and hypotheticals.

Read on below to find out more.

Expressing Certainty or Belief

We use “will” to communicate things we know, strongly believe, or predict about the present or future. For example:

The laundry will be dry now.

We will arrive in Paris at 9am.

Note how “will” differs from “could” or “might” here:

It will rain tomorrow.

It might rain tomorrow.

These both describe the same thing (i.e., the possibility of it raining). But when we use “will,” we are saying that we’re confident or certain about it.

To describe past beliefs about the future, meanwhile, we use “would”:

I thought the laundry would be dry by now.

We would have arrived at 9am, but our train was late.

Discussing Intentions and Willingness

We can use “will” and “would” to talk about what people want are willing to do. When we are discussing present or future intentions, we use “will”:

Mary says she will visit us today.

I will finish my homework tonight.

And we use “would” to talk about past intentions:

Mary said she would visit us today.

My dog would not stop barking.

Making Offers, Requests and Promises

We use “will” to make promises and offers:

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We will pick Sarah up from the airport.

I will bring you a coffee.

To make requests, we can use either “will you” or “would you”:

Will you come to the hospital with me?

Would you pass the salt, please?

“Would you” is considered more polite or formal when making a request.

Conditionals and Hypotheticals

We’ve already mentioned that “will” is used when discussing beliefs about the future. This also applies to conditional beliefs (i.e., that something “will” happen if certain conditions are met):

If the traffic is okay, we will be there by noon.

Unless he studies every day, he will fail the exam.

However, we only use “will” in conditionals when something seems likely. If the hypothetical outcome seems less likely or if we’re simply imagining a situation, we use “would” instead:

If no one ever won the lottery, people would stop buying tickets.

It would be sad if we had to leave this city.

Habitual or Typical Behaviors

Sometimes, we use “will” to refer to habitual or typical behaviors:

He will talk about his family for days given half the chance.

She will always turn the television on as soon as she gets home.

And we use “would” to discuss something that was done often in the past:

Before the Industrial Revolution, people would weave textiles by hand.

When I lived in New York, I would take the subway to work.

Summary: Will or Would?

“Would” is sometimes the past tense of the verb “will.” But these terms are not typically interchangeable. The key things to remember on this count are:

  • As a verb, we can use will to discuss the future.
  • Would is a past tense form of “will,” but we also use it for imaginary conditionals and polite requests.

An easy way to remember the difference between the two is that “will” is never used in the past tense, whereas “would” sometimes is.

Hopefully, it is now clear which word to use and when. But if you’d like someone to check your writing is error free, our proofreaders can help!

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