When do you use “will” and when do you use “would” in English?
Some of myESLstudents often ask me when they should “will” and when they should “would”. This is a common problem for many Chinese learners of English. Both “will” and “would” can be used for future time but there is a difference in meaning. “Will” is used when it appears likely that something will happen in the future.
e.g.1 – “We will have a high tomorrow of + 11 degrees Celsius.”
In this sentence, the speaker believes (maybe he/she is a meteorologist) that the high (i.e. – the maximum temperature) will reach + 11 degrees.
In contrast, English speakers use “would” if a future event is highly unlikely or contrary to fact. It is usually used in a conditional sentence with “if”.
e.g.2 – “If I was prime minister, I would lower taxes.”
Note that in the above example, there is a conditional clause (“if I was prime minister”) before the clause with “would”. I’m not the prime minister. This is contrary to fact. Therefore, I can’t lower taxes. By the way, you may also have noticed that sentence starts with “If I was …” not “If I were …” Both “was” and “were” are OK here. They both mean that I’m actually not prime minister. “Were” is just more formal than “was”.
In speaking, however, people don’t normally pronounce “will” and “would”. For ‘will’ people normally just say ‘ll. For example, people normally say e.g. 1 like this: “We’ll have a high tomorrow of + 11 degrees Celsius”. Many of my Chinese students have problems with the /l/ at the end of a word. They often mispronounce /l/ as /w/, so they say “we’w” not “we’ll”. To say it correctly, you need to put your tongue in the same position as the /l/ in the Mandarin word for “power” (i.e. – li).
With regards to “would”, English speakers usually pronounce it as ‘d. So, they would normally pronounce “I would lower taxes” as “I’d lower taxes”.
There’s also another difference in meaning between “will” and “would”, but I can tell you about that next time.