Contents:


Form

Affirmative sentences 

Full form:

subject + “would” + base form of verb

Contracted form:

pronoun + “‘d” + base form of verb

  • “Mum would make pancakes every morning.”
  • “I’d go if someone accompanied me.”

* Please note: “I had” has the same contraction, “I’d.” To avoid confusion, remember that “would” is followed by the base form of the verb and “had” is followed by the past participle form.

Negative sentences 

Full form:

subject + “would not” + base form of verb

Contracted form:

subject + “wouldn’t” + base form of verb

  • “He should not have let his emotions affect his judgement.”
  • “He said he wouldn’t be able to join us for dinner.”

* Please note: Full forms are used in formal contexts or for added emphasis.

Questions 

Full forms:

(a) “would” + subject + base form of verb

(b) question word + “would” + subject + base form of verb

  • Would you like a drink?”
  • How would you like your coffee?”
Negative questions

It is possible to make negative questions even though their uses are quite specific.

The structure for full forms and contracted forms are slightly different. Contracted forms are preferred in general.

Contracted forms:

(a) “wouldn’t” + subject + base form of verb

(b) question word + “wouldn’t” + subject + base form of verb

Full forms:

(a) “would” + subject + “not” + base form of verb

(b) question word + “would” + subject + “not” + base form of verb

  • Wouldn’t you like a drink?”
  • Would you not like a drink?”

Uses of Would

Although “would” is the past tense form of “will,” it has many other uses as well.

1.   To refer to what someone was willing to do OR what something was able to do.

This is the past tense of “will.” Usually this is used in the negative, “would not,” and is often used to express the speaker’s disapproval.

Past: “My daughter won’t get out of bed.”
Present: “My daughter wouldn’t get out of bed this morning.”

Past: “My van will not start.”
Present: “The van would not start again today.”

2.   To refer to past statements about the future in reported/indirect speech.

This is also the past tense of “will” and is used in a few ways.

Past: “There will be clear skies tomorrow.”
Present: “The weather report said therei>would be clear skies today.”

a.   To express intentions.

Past: “I‘ll write to you every week.”
Present: “He said he would write to her every week.”

b.   To express expectations.

Past: “I think they‘ll arrive by midnight.”
Present: “I thought they would have arrived by midnight, but they were delayed by traffic.”

c.   To refer to future time or plans.

Past: “We‘re going to Singapore next week.”
Present: “They said they would go to Singapore next week.”

3.   To refer to habitual or repetitive actions in the past.
  • “Every morning, my grandmother would water her flowers.”
  • “We would play in the park every evening after school.”
a.   Used in a disapproving way to refer to something typical or expected of a person’s behaviour.
  • “He would always forget where he left the car keys.”

* Please note: “Would” should not be used to refer to states or used with stative verbs (e.g., feel, love, know).

  • “When I was a child, we used to live in the countryside.”
    Not – “When I was a child, we would live in the countryside.”
  • 4.   With “why” – To refer to one’s motives in a past event.

    This is used in a few different ways.

    a. To add emphasis when you do not understand why.
    • Why would anyone steal my watch? It’s not valuable!”
    • “I don’t understand why you would say something like that.”
    b. To state something obvious in the form of a rhetorical question.
    • “It was obvious he came for you. Why else would he come?”
    5.   To be more polite, formal and less direct.

    This is used in a number of different ways.

    a. To make offers.
    • Would you like some help?”
    b. To make requests.
    • I’d like some more time to think about this.”
    • Would you mind passing the salt?”
    c. To express opinions.
    • “This is not what I would have expected from you.”
    • I would say we need to be more cautious moving forward.”
    • I’d think he’d be happier doing other things.”

    Depending on the tone used, this can also imply doubt or uncertainty.

    • I’d imagine it costs a lot more.”
    d. To give advice in the first person.
    • I wouldn’t be too concerned about it if I were you.”
    • I’d recommend trying the bigger sizes first.”
    • I’d suggest taking the more scenic route if you’re not in a hurry.”
    • We’d advise you try again next year.”
    e. To express strong or controversial statements in a less forceful and offensive way.

    Compare the following two sentences:

  • “The whole thing was revolting.””
    This is very direct and comes across as a very strong opinion.
  • I’d say the whole thing was pretty revolting.”
    This is less direct.
  • 6.   To show preference (between two choices).
    • “I‘d rather have coffee than tea.”
    • “Which would you prefer? A or B?”

    Often, the second choice can be implied rather than stated.

    • “I‘d prefer to do it by myself.”   (… rather than get help.)
    7.   To refer to what is likely or probable.
    • “There’s someone on the phone for you.”
      • “That would be my wife.”
    8.   With “wish” – To express desires.
    • “I wish he wouldn’t smoke so much.”
    • “I wish you‘d be a little more understanding.”
    9.   To refer to theoretical or imagined situations.

    This is used in a few different ways.

    a. With ‘if’ – In conditional sentences for unreal/theoretical situations.
    • “What would you do if you were very rich?”
    • “If I had a lot of money, I would travel the world.”
    b. To imagine a different past or situation.
    • “If I had been there earlier, I would have seen you before you left.”
    • “I would do it, but I haven’t got the time.”
    c. To refer to an imagined situation.
    • “I would hate to be late for a meeting.”

    Original post: 11 January 2021

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