In this lesson we’ll look at the many ways in which we use ‘will’ and ‘would’ in English, as well as the difference between ‘would’ and ‘used to’ – something that often causes even advanced speakers of English problems!
a) We use ‘will’ and ‘would’ to make requests. ‘Would’ is generally more polite:
i) Will you help me with this question?
ii) Would you mind repeating that please?
b) ‘Will’ and ‘would can be used to show willingness:
i) I’ve got quite an old car and it often won’t start in the morning.
ii) When my children were younger they just wouldn’t play nicely together.
c) We can use ‘will’ and ‘would’ to express criticism. We usually stress these verbs to show we’re being critical:
i) Our teacher will insist on giving us lots of homework.
ii) She would do that. That’s just like her.
d) We can use ‘would’ to express the future when we’re describing a past time:
I had no idea when I was younger that I would be studying abroad in the future.
e) ‘Would’ can be used to give advice:
If I were you I would certainly try to visit my country in the spring.
f) ‘Will’ and ‘would’ are often found in statements when we’re hypothesising about the past, the present or the future:
i) I would have made more progress at school if I’d worked harder. (past)
ii) I would imagine people who are rich spend less time worrying about money. (present)
iii) Of course I can’t be sure but I think I’ll pass the exam. (future)
g) Both ‘would’ and ‘used to’ describe past habits or events that no longer happen, but there are differences between the two. We use ‘would’ if we’re describing a repeated action in the past (and if it’s a happy memory, such as in the first example below, ‘would’ is a good choice). ‘Used to’ in comparison can also describe states and situations:
i) When I was younger my grandfather would/used to bring us chocolate when he visited.
ii) I used to live in Madrid until I went to university. (not ‘would’)
ii) I used to drive a motorbike before I bought my car. (not ‘would’)
Over to you
Practise the use of ‘would’ and ‘used to’ to describe past habits. Cast your mind back to a happy period in your childhood that you can describe. Remember to use ‘would’ to describe actions that are a happy memory and ‘used to’ to describe simple actions, or states. For example:
My childhood was a happy time. My parents never used to have a great deal of money but we generally managed to keep ourselves entertained. My father used to be very busy but whenever he had the chance he would take the time to read us bedtime stories. And mum would always find the money to treat us now and again.