Use “will” to describe the future with a high degree of certainty and “would” to discuss past habits, hypotheticals, or imaginary situations.
What is the difference between would and will?
“Would” is the past tense form of “will,” but these two verbs don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Most of the time, we use “will” within direct speech to discuss a future action with a high degree of certainty.
“I will study the English Language.”
“You will pass your upcoming exams.”
“Would” tends to appear in indirect speech or while referencing a past habit (as a past tense verb). However, it’s also a “conditional verb” that describes hypothetical situations or anything possible under certain conditions (real or imaginary).
“I said I would be on time.”
“Back in the day, I would study adverbs for hours.”
“I would have passed the test if I had studied more.”
“If the test was postponed, would you still study?”
Will and would are modal verbs
The main reason “will” and “would” are so confusing is that they are modal auxiliary verbs (aka “helping verbs”), which means they assist the main verb in a clause when conveying a specific tone or context. In other words, all modal verbs reference a past, present, and/or future verb, but not always in the same way.
“Will” conveys a higher degree of certainty about the future, while “would” is more apt to express possibility with a lower degree of certainty. That’s the short and sweet version, anyway.
Another way to understand will vs. would is to compare how other modal verbs function:
- May/might: Both express possibility, but only “may” conveys permission.
- Can/could: both describe an ability, but only “could” conveys a suggestion or possibility.
- Should: used to advise, suggest, or express an expectation.
- Must: used to express a necessity, obligation, or conclusion.
As indicated above, all modal verbs are similar to various degrees. “Would,” “might,” and “could” are all past tense forms of “will,” “may,” and “can.”
Likewise, we can use “can” and “may” to ask for permission, or we can use “will,” “would,” and “could” to make a polite request. But regardless of how similar they are, modal verbs are never the same across the board.
What does will mean?
Will is an English modal verb found in the simple future tense for indicating an inevitability, request, command, consent, habit, assertion, and more. Here’s a quick rundown on how to use “will” for each context:
Strong intentions or assertions about the future
“I will unload the dishwasher later.”
“We will discuss our future in a moment.”
“Jess has decided to leave for Tokyo on Wednesday, and go she will.”
“Whatever happens, I will pass my ESL class.”
Requests, willingness, or consent
“If you’re off work, will you grab the parcel outside?”
“Will you knock it off already?”
“Will you have a cup of coffee?”
Commands and requirements
“They will obey me.”
“You will do as I say.”
“You will tell me your secrets.”
Inevitability or certainty
“Embarrassing moments will happen.”
“You will regret this pizza later.”
“Boys will be boys.”
Habitual actions or tendencies
“Trust me, she will post a new comment.”
“Debbie will sleep like this all day.”
“Students will keep showing up late if you allow it.”
Probability or expectation
“We will have eaten by then.”
“That will be Ann at the door.”
“The concert will be one to remember.”
Capability or sufficiency
“My Nissan will hold five people max.”
“She will do fine on her reading comprehension questions.”
“The spaceship will withstand the journey past Jupiter.”
What does would mean?
Would is the past tense form of will, which allows us to use the two verbs in similar ways. For example,
- “I knew there would be a line at the airport.”
- “My students would take unconventional career paths.”
But when “would” expresses the conditional mood (often with the word “if”), it describes the outcome of a hypothetical or imagined situation. For example,
- “I would be broke if I lived in California.”
- “If I could attend any school, I would go to Harvard.”
Specific uses and examples of “would” include:
Possible or imagined outcomes
“If I had more time, I would visit New York.”
“If I were to go, I would need to leave by next week.”
“You would crush these quizzes if you had more time to study.”
Suggestion or advice
“If I were you, I would review those study notes again.”
“In that case, I would ask for permission.”
“I wouldn’t write about that if I were you.”
Desire or hope
“Ruth would love to live outside of North America.”
“We wish you would visit more often.”
“It would be great to see you sometime.”
Assertion or intention
“Mom said she would meet us around 4 pm.”
“We are appalled by those who would burn books.”
“I knew you would master verbs in no time.”
Consent, willingness, or preference
“I would study with you.”
“I would sooner die than watch another lecture.”
“Who would attend a school like this, anyway?”
“We would rather leave at the earliest opportunity.”
Polite requests or invitations
“Would you like to join our study group?”
“Would you please go with me to the new campus?”
“Would you reconsider my offer?”
A hope, presumption, or expectation
“With your GPA, I imagine you would be an ideal candidate.”
“That would be my date at the door.”
“I would describe the campus as modern and elegant.”
“If I left, I would be in so much trouble.”
“She would say that, wouldn’t she?”
“An overachiever would do that, wouldn’t they?”
“Dad would pick me up from school in his Camaro.”
“We would always meet up for lunch on Wednesdays.”
“My brothers would rant on and on for days.”
“Her scores would appear to be getting better.”
“The answer would seem correct.”
“It would appear to be the case.”
Additional tips for using would vs. will in a sentence
Use will for first conditional statements
First conditional statements describe actions in the near future that have a strong likelihood of occurring.
- “If I pass the test, I will go out tonight.”
- “If that’s the case, I think I will stay home.”
Use would for second and third conditional statements
Second conditional statements describe present or future actions that are unlikely, imaginary, or hypothetical (often of the subjunctive mood).
- “If I weren’t working on my writing, I would help other students with theirs.”
- “If Godzilla were real, I would lose my mind.”
Third conditional statements reimagine past events and how they could have happened differently.
- “If I could go back in time, I would have studied more in school.”
- “If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently.”
Is it “will of” vs. “would of”?
While it’s common to hear “will of” and “would of” in everyday speech, both phrases are actually incorrect. The correct word to follow “will” or “would” is “have,” never “of.”
Correct: “We would have passed the math exam.”
Incorrect: “We would of passed the math exam.”
Correct: “I will have studied that chapter by then.”
Incorrect: “I will of studied that chapter by then.”
Additional reading for will vs. would
If you enjoy learning about tricky modal verbs, adverbs, and more, be sure to check out similar lessons on The Word Counter, such as:
Test how well you understand the difference between will and would with the following multiple-choice questions.
- True or false?: The main difference between will and would is that will is the past tense form of would.
- True or false?: “Will” is found in conditional statements to talk about future possibilities.
- _________ is the best word to use for describing a future event or an imaginary situation.
c. A or B
d. None of the above
- A second conditional statement describes a present or future situation that is unlikely, imaginary, or hypothetical.
a. First conditional sentence
b. Second conditional sentence
c. Third conditional sentence
d. The main clause of a sentence
- English speakers use “will” with a singular or plural pronoun to assist a sentence’s main verb for the ___________.
a. Present tense
b. Perfect tense
c. Future tense
d. A and C
- Boyle, J., Opperman, W. “Grammar Workshop Verb Tenses.” Academic Support and Access Center, American University, 6 Oct 2016.
- “Modal verbs.” The George Mason University Writing Center, George Mason University, 1 June 2016.
- “Reported speech: direct speech.” English Grammar Today, Cambridge Dictionary, 2021.
- “Reported speech: indirect speech.” English Grammar Today, Cambridge Dictionary, 2021.
- “Verb tenses.” The George Mason University Writing Center, George Mason University, 4 Jan 2018.
- “Will.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
- “Will.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Would.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Would.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021.