How to use will

First, let’s take a look at a few ways that we use the modal verb will in English:

giving information about the future

We commonly use will to give or ask for information about the future. Remember that we can shorten “I will” or “We will” to create the contraction “I’ll” or “We’ll”:

  • We’ll head home after work.

  • What time will they get here?

  • The conference will be held in Meeting Room A.

We also use will to talk about what we think, or guess will happen:

when we’re ready or open to doing something

We often use will to talk about things that we are ready to do or that we’re open to doing without any issues or objections:

  • I will eat anything. I’m not picky at all.

  • Sure, I’ll have a cup of coffee. Thanks!

  • I know she’ll go to Paris with me.

  • Mr. Johnson? Dr. Ramirez will see you now.

Rules or orders

You’ll often hear will used to talk about general rules, especially on signs or in codes of conduct or company policies and procedures:

And sometimes you’ll hear people use will to give orders or commands, although we consider this extremely direct and even aggressive:

How to use would

Before we talk about the main differences between will and would, let’s talk about some common uses for would in English:

Expectations in the past

We can use would to talk about things that we expected to happen in the past. English speakers often use this when they’re telling stories:

  • The sky was getting cloudy, which meant it would rain.

  • She wanted to call him, but she knew he wouldn’t answer.

  • It was 3:00 pm. He would be home soon.

Habits in the past

We can also use would to mean “used to.” So, we can use it to talk about past habits or things that we used to do over and over:

  • When we lived in the mountains, we would go hiking all the time.

  • When my grandpa was a kid, he would play tricks on the neighbor girls.

But be careful: When we use would in this context, we have to make it clear that we’re talking about the past. We can say,

But because would has a few different uses, it’s not as clear what we mean if we say:

  • We would smoke.

  • I would go jogging more.

If we don’t clarify that we’re talking about the past, it can sound like we’re talking about something we might do in the present if we had the opportunity. For clarity, it’s better to use it in this way:

  • Before we quit, we would smoke all the time.

  • I would go jogging more when I lived near the park.

Talking about the future in the past

What? How can you use the future in the past? In simple terms, when we’re speaking in the past, will becomes would. For example, imagine you’re a kid again, and you say:

As an adult, you can say:

Here’s another example. Imagine you just broke up with someone, and you say,

But, after time passes, you can say:

patterns of behavior in the present

We can use would in the present to show that we’re aware of expected behaviors or actions. When we use would in this way, we usually use it to show that we don’t like certain repetitive behaviors or actions. We can also use it in mock-anger or frustration when we’re joking with someone.

We often combine it with a tag question to get a response from the person we’re speaking to. So, this use of would typically follows this structure:

  • You would say that, wouldn’t you?

  • He would walk here instead of taking the bus, wouldn’t he? He’s so silly.

  • You just spoiled the ending of the book! You would do that, wouldn’t you?

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