Would

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Would is a modal verb. As such, it is invariable, there is no other form of would. Historically it is the past tense of will and it still acts as such in reported speech:

It is pronounced /wʊd/, the l is not pronounced. In speech it is often pronounced simply as /d/ after a vowel, as in "I'd like some pie, please." or as /əd/ after a consonant, "The machine would break."

While I'd, he'd, she'd is OK in informal writing, the machine'd is incorrect in written English, but common in spoken English.

Reported speech (marks the "future in the past")

3:00pm: boss meeting
Barbara: Could you tell Liz that I won't be here for the dinner tonight, my flight is leaving at 8.
Melissa: Sure, I am seeing her this afternoon.
4:00pm: Melissa runs into Liz at the coffee machine
Melissa: Hi Liz... hey... before I forget... Barbara asked me to tell you she wouldn't be here for the dinner tonight because her flight was leaving at 8.
Liz: Wow, you can still get flights out of New York? I hope she makes it back safely.

Politeness

Would is often used to make a polite offer. Compare:

  • Do you want a coffee? (It's always nice when someone offers you a coffee, but...
  • Would you like (some / a) coffee? is even nicer!)
(a coffee) = a dose, (some coffee) = from a communal coffeepot
  • Would you be willing to work weekends in August? I promise the air conditioner will be working.
  • Would you mind calling back this afternoon at 3pm?

This politeness is called "modal distancing". It's a bit like social distancing for language.

Habitual past activities

would can be synonymous with used to.

  • When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike everywhere. These days, not so much.
  • When I was a kid, I would ride my bike everywhere. These days, not so much.

One key difference is that would can only be used to talk about activities, or repeated events, e.g.

  • She would regularly arrive 20 minutes late at least once a week because of the train strikes.
  • They would come over for dinner once a month when we lived in Seattle. They would often end up spending the night in our guest room.

and are not very often used to talk about states.

  • I guess I used to know them pretty well when we lived in Seattle, but we haven't spoken in years.
  • I would know them pretty well when we lived in Seattle.
  • When you were a kid, did you use to believe in Santa Claus?
  • When you were a kid, would you believe in Santa Claus?

Conditional mood

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
See also: The Four Conditionals


This is the most frequent use of would.

  • Wouldn't it be nice to be at the beach?
  • Wouldn't the mayors or governors be in a better position to evaluate the risk than the federal government?

2nd conditional (irrealis)

  • If I were you, I wouldn't risk taking the last train out of town. It sometimes gets canceled.
  • I'd buy a ticket, if I was sure it'll be safe to travel in August.

3rd conditional (counterfactual)

  • If I had known there was going to be a pandemic, I wouldn't have reserved a flat in the fjords.

In rapid speech would have is pronounced / 'wʊdə(v) /
& wouldn't have is pronounced / 'wʊdənə(v) /

  • If I'd asked, I'd have known. nb: 'd can be either had or would. :)
'ɪf 'aɪd 'æskt 'aɪdə'noʊn