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Alternative forms[edit]


From Old English wolde, past tense of willan.



would (auxiliary)

  1. Past tense of will; usually followed by a bare infinitive.
    1. Used to form the "anterior future", or "future in the past", indicating a futurity relative to a past time. [from 9th c.]
      On my first day at University, I met the woman who would become my wife.
      • 1867, Anthony Trollope, chapter 28, in Last Chronicle of Barset:
        That her Lily should have been won and not worn, had been, and would be, a trouble to her for ever.
      • 1913, Mrs. [Marie] Belloc Lowndes, chapter I, in The Lodger, London: Methuen, →OCLC; republished in Novels of Mystery: The Lodger; The Story of Ivy; What Really Happened, New York, N.Y.: Longmans, Green and Co., [], [1933], →OCLC, page 0056:
        Thanks to that penny he had just spent so recklessly [on a newspaper] he would pass a happy hour, taken, for once, out of his anxious, despondent, miserable self. It irritated him shrewdly to know that these moments of respite from carking care would not be shared with his poor wife, with careworn, troubled Ellen.
      • 2011 November 5, Phil Dawkes, “QPR 2-3 Man City”, in BBC Sport:
        Toure would have the decisive say though, rising high to power a header past Kenny from Aleksandar Kolarov's cross.
    2. Used to; was or were habitually accustomed to; indicating an action in the past that happened repeatedly or commonly. [from 9th c.]
      When we were younger, we would cycle out to the beach most summer Sundays.
      • 1897 December (indicated as 1898), Winston Churchill, chapter IV, in The Celebrity: An Episode, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., →OCLC, page 46:
        No matter how early I came down, I would find him on the veranda, smoking cigarettes, or otherwise his man would be there with a message to say that his master would shortly join me if I would kindly wait.
      • 2009 March 15, “Soundtrack of my life”, in The Guardian:
        When we were kids we would sit by the radio with a tape recorder on a Sunday, listening out for the chart songs we wanted to have.
    3. Was or were determined to; indicating someone's insistence upon doing something. [from 18th c.]
      I asked her to stay in with me, but she would go out.
    4. Could naturally have been expected to (given the tendencies of someone's character etc.). [from 18th c.]
      Sorry, officer, I wouldn't know anything about the crime, since I was nowhere near the scene.
      • 2009 May 10, “Is the era of free news over?”, in The Observer:
        The free access model, the media magnate said last week, was "malfunctioning". Well he would, wouldn't he?
    5. (archaic) Wanted to. [from 9th c.]
      • 1490, William Caxton, Prologue to Eneydos:
        And thenne at laste a-nother sayd that he wolde have eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she understod hym wel.
      • 1852, James Murdock, trans. Johann Lorenz Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, II.7.iii:
        The Greeks, especially those who would be thought adepts in mystic theology, ran after fantastic allegories [].
    6. (archaic) Used with ellipsis of the infinitive verb, or postponement to a relative clause, in various senses. [from 9th c.]
      • 1694, John Strype, Memorials of The Most Reverend Father in God, Thomas Cranmer[1], Appendix page 68:
        At which time he told me, he would to London that week, and so to Oxford.
      • 1724, Daniel Defoe, Roxana, Penguin, page 107:
        He sat as one astonish'd, a good-while, looking at me, without speaking a Word, till I came quite up to him, kneel'd on one Knee to him, and almost whether he would or no, kiss'd his Hand [].
      • 1886 October – 1887 January, H[enry] Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., published 1887, →OCLC:
        'I thank thee, oh Ayesha,' I replied, with as much dignity as I could command, 'but if there be such a place as thou dost describe, and if in this strange place there may be found a fiery virtue that can hold off Death when he comes to pluck us by the hand, yet would I none of it.'
    7. (obsolete) Wished, desired (something). [9th–19th c.]
  2. A modal verb, the subjunctive of will; usually followed by a bare infinitive.
    1. Used as the auxiliary of the simple conditional modality, indicating a state or action that is conditional on another. [from 9th c.]
      If I won the lottery, I would give half the money to charity.
      • 1846, “A New Sentimental Journey”, in Blackwoods Magazine, volume LX, number 372:
        If I could fly, I would away to those realms of light and warmth – far, far away in the southern clime [].
      • 2010 February 26, The Guardian:
        Warnock admitted it would be the ideal scenario if he received a Carling Cup winners' medal as well as an England call-up [].
    2. Without explicit condition, or with loose or vague implied condition, indicating a hypothetical or imagined state or action.
      I would love to come and visit.
      Look at that yummy cake! I would eat that all up!
      • 2008 November 3, Mark Cocker, “Country Diary”, in The Guardian:
        It's a piece of old folklore for which I would love to find hard proof.
    3. Suggesting conditionality or potentiality in order to express a sense of politeness, tentativeness, indirectness, hesitancy, uncertainty, etc. [from 9th c.]
      I would ask you all to sit down.
      I would imagine that they have already left.
      • 2009, Nick Snow, The Rocket's Trail, page 112:
        “Those trials are being run by the American army so surely you must have access to the documents?” “Well, yeah, you’d think.”
      • 2010 February 2, Terry Pratchett, “My case for a euthanasia tribunal”, in The Guardian:
        Departing on schedule with the help of a friendly doctor was quite usual. Does that still apply? It would seem so.
    4. Used to express what the speaker would do in another person's situation, as a means of giving a suggestion or recommendation.
      It's disgraceful the way that they've treated you. I would write and complain.
    5. Used to express the speaker's belief or assumption.
      He's very security-conscious, so he would have remembered to lock the door.
      They would be arriving in London round about now.
    6. Used interrogatively to express a polite request; are (you) willing to …? [from 15th c.]
      Would you pass the salt, please?
    7. (chiefly archaic) Might wish (+ verb in past subjunctive); often used in the first person (with or without that) in the sense of "if only". [from 13th c.]
    8. (chiefly archaic, transitive or control verb) Might desire; wish (something). [from 15th c.]

Usage notes[edit]

  • As an auxiliary verb, would is followed by the bare infinitive (without to):
    John said he would have fish for dinner.
  • Would is frequently contracted to 'd, especially after a pronoun (as in I'd, you'd, and so on).
  • The term would-be retains the senses of both desire and potentiality (those of wannabe and might-be, respectively).
  • Indicating a wish, would takes a clause in the past subjunctive (irrealis) mood; this clause may or may not be introduced with that. Most commonly in modern usage, it is followed by the adverb rather, as in I would rather that he go now. A call to a deity or other higher power is sometimes interposed after would and before the subjunctive clause, as in Would to God that [] ; see the citations page for examples.
  • When used, mainly archaically, in the sense of "if only", the first-person subject pronoun is often omitted.


Related terms[edit]


Note: many languages express some meanings of would using a mood or tense rather than by a particular word.


would (plural woulds)

  1. Something that would happen, or would be the case, under different circumstances; a potentiality.
    • 1996, Fred Shoemaker, Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible, page 88:
      When the golf ball is there, the whole self-interference package — the hopes, worries, and fears; the thoughts on how-to and how-not-to; the woulds, the coulds, and the shoulds — is there too.
    • 2010, Shushona Novos, The Personal Universal: A Guidebook for Spiritual Evolution, page 395:
      Shushona you must learn to rightfully prioritize all the woulds, shoulds and coulds of your life.

See also[edit]