For today’s blog entry, I want to go over a word that has various uses in the English language: “would”. There are six basic functions for this word, and I will explain each one and give you examples.
1. used to indicate imagined situations. For example:
If I were rich, I would travel all over the world.
If I were you, I wouldn’t smoke so much. It’s really not good for you.
I would drive to my hometown if I had a car.
2. used to indicate frequent actions in the past. This usage has the same meaning as “used to”. For example:
My family and I would have breakfast together every Sunday when I was young.
After school, my friends and I would play video games.
In the 1950s and before that, women would stay home with the children and the men would work. Nowadays, the situation has changed for many families.
3. used with “like” to express desires. In this case “would like” is a more polite way to say “want”. For example:
Would you like something to drink?
I would like you to do me a favor.
I would like a hamburger, and my daughter would like a cheeseburger.
4. used as the past tense form of “will” in reported speech. For example:
“I will never smoke.” (direct speech)
He said he would never smoke. (reported speech)
“Will you help me with my project?” (direct speech)
She asked me if I would help her with her project. (reported speech)
5. used as a polite form of the word “will”. This form is used when making requests. For example:
Would you be able to help me this afternoon?
Would you please stop tapping your pen on the table? It’s bothering me.
Do you think Cheryl would be able to work overtime tonight? We really need her.
6. used with a verb in questions in order to make the question sound softer and more polite. For example:
How much would a one-way ticket to Chicago cost? (more polite form of “How much does a one-way ticket to Chicago cost?”)
It would cost $80.00.
How long would it take to drive to Osaka? (more polite form of “How long does it take to drive to Osaka?”)
It would take about three hours.
Who would that be? (more polite form of “Who is that?”)
That would be my wife.
In these last examples, we can use “would” in the answers because the other person used “would” in the questions. However, if the person asking the question doesn’t use “would”, the answer should also not use “would”. In these situations, the use of “would” makes the sentences sound more formal.
As I’ve said in the past, the best way to improve your English and to master difficult words like “would” is to memorize complete sentences and then change the small details to make new sentences. In this way, you can think directly in English instead of translating from your native language. Good luck! 🙂