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General Uses of the Word “Would”

Magoosh has already done two posts on the use of “would” in conditionals. In this post, we’ll look at other uses of “would,” outside of conditional statements. “Would” is used in a lot of different ways, both on the TOEFL and in general English. Below, enjoy a complete grammar guide to using “would.”

A substitute for “used to”: “Used to” is a past tense expression that describes a habit that someone once had. In each of the two examples below, the first sentence uses “used to.” The second sentence in each example uses “would,” but otherwise the sentence is unchanged. Because “would” can replace “used to,” the meaning of the sentence doesn’t change.

Before I had a child I used to stay up late at night. >>>>Before I had a child, I would stay up late at night.

When I lived in Hollywood, I used to take photos of the famous Hollywood sign and send them to my friends. >>>> When I lived in Hollywood, I would take photos of the famous Hollywood sign and send them to my friends.

Commenting on an action that just occurred, describing it as typical: This use of “would” has a negative connotation. It’s used to describe an event that is common and expected, but still disappointing. Have you ever felt like bad things always happen to you? Or felt like a friend or relative always does something that disappoints you? For these kinds of frustrating situations, you use “would.”

It would rain during my weekend vacation at the beach. I always have such bad luck!
He would be 20 minutes late for the final exam. He is never on time for anything important.

Expressing a preference: This use of “would” helps people know what you want or don’t want. It can be used politely. As you will see from the third example below, it can also be used rudely.

I would rather not buy a house. I would like to rent an apartment instead.
I would prefer not to drive to school. It’s a beautiful day, so I would enjoy walking there instead.
I would sooner starve than eat his terrible cooking.

Asking about a preference: In a question, “would” can also be used to ask someone else about what they want or prefer.

How would you like to take a vacation in Southern France?
What would you like to drink, coffee or tea?

Gentle expression of disbelief about a possibility: This is similar to the use of “could” to politely disagree with a stated fact. The difference is that in this use of “would,” you are disagreeing with a statement of possibility, not a statement of fact. If someone says something may be possible, but you think they are wrong, use “would” to politely disagree with them.

He wouldn’t do anything violent. He is a very gentle person.
You wouldn’t enjoy working at a factory; the work is very boring.

Politely requesting something: You can ask a question with “would” to politely request something. This is similar to requesting with a “could” sentence. However, when you use “would,” the tone is more polite and more formal than with “could.”

you reach up to the top shelf and get that book for me?

Politely stating desire: Here you are not necessarily requesting anything, but you are using “would” to tell someone that you want something.

I would like do that.
I would love to come on the trip if you have room for one more person.


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