Modal verbs – will/would

Of all the modal verbs, will/would are probably used the most. Why, you may ask. They are used to form both the future and conditional tenses. However, these two do more than just that. They can also be used for habits, indirect order and politeness. Let’s have a look at these uses:

Habits + will/would

When you use will with habits, it means that a person does something that has a certain outcome and this will happen in the future as well. For example:

  • He will be home from work at 5PM tomorrow as well.

In this example, the person he usually comes home from work at 5PM and, habitually, this will happen again tomorrow.

Let’s look at this idea represented in the past as well:

  • When I was young, I would get up early and eat breakfast.

This sentence shows that this habit only existed in the past. The speaker I no longer gets up early and eats breakfast.

Indirect orders + will/would

In contrast to direct orders, which start with a verb and are commands/imperative (read a review of the imperative voice here: A review of Active tenses in English), indirect orders follow the usual subject-verb-object flow of sentences in English. This means that indirect orders start with a subject (often second (you) or third (he/she/it) person) but still perform the same function: giving a command.

For this use, we can only use the verb will. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • You will go to your room young man.

In this sentence, a person (you) is commanded to go to their room. The equivalent direct order would be:

  • Go to your room young man!

Notice that the indirect order starts with you will while the direct order has removed this part.

Politeness + would

Would can be used to show politeness and is usually in the form of a question. For example:

  • Would you be so kind as to tie my shoe?

The reason that would seems to be polite is related to the use of conditional tenses to show politeness as the request or command is less direct. For example:

  • Pass me the salt. – Direct command, very direct and potentially rude
  • Would you pass me the salt? – Polite request, indirect and not potentially rude

Future

If you would like to learn more about how to use will to form the future tense, please read: A review of Active tenses in English or Will vs Going to vs Shall/Should future

Conditional

If you would like to learn more about how to use will or would to form the conditional tenses or conditional sentences, please read: A review of Conditional sentences.


Want to learn more about modal verbs? You can find a guide to all the modal verbs here: introduction to modal verbs. You can also learn more about other English language information on my Teaching English page.

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