Would — modal auxiliary
Would is a modal auxiliary verb that we use to form part of the conditional voice in English, as well as expressing past habits. Let’s dive deeper.
How is “would” used?
We mainly use ‘would’ for conditional use. In English, there are four: zero, first, second and third conditional. Only conditionals two and three require the usage of ‘would’ but we will outline all four conditionals nevertheless.
Zero conditional: used to present facts or real situations in the present
(If + present simple, …present simple).
- If I light a match, it burns.
- If you boil water, it reaches 100 degrees Celsius.
- If you attack animals they get angry.
First conditional: used to present facts or real situations in the future
(If + present simple + will + infinitive).
- If you go to school, I’ll buy you a present.
- If you eat too many calories, you’ll get fat.
- If he comes early, we’ll be happy.
Second conditional: used for hypothetical or imaginary situations in the past or future
(If + past simple + would + infinitive).
- If you lived closer to home you’d be able to commute faster to work (‘d = contracted form of ‘would’).
- If only she knew about the living circumstances, she wouldn’t be living there today.
- If Harry took the daily commute to London at 5.00 am he would arrive much earlier.
Third conditional: Used for absolute hypothetical or imaginary circumstances in the future, present or past
(If + past perfect + would + have + past participle).
- If we had lived in New York we‘d have met so many interesting people.
- If only I had been born in the first century, I would have lived throughout some of the Roman Empire.
- If I had won the lottery, I‘d have given you at least half of my winnings.
A quick lesson with context and analysis
- Jennifer, what would you buy me if you won the lottery?
- That’s a tough question.1 If I won the lottery, I would buy you all the smiles in the world.2
- Oh, come on! Be real! What would you actually buy me?
- Well, If I won the lottery then I would take you out for dinner.3
- You’re not the most generous person I know.
- What about you? If you suddenly went from rags to riches,4 what would you give me?
- I’d5 give you my love.
- Seriously? That’s it?
- If I hadn’t worked for my wealth, I wouldn’t have appreciated everything I have achieved.6
- That’s true. I agree with your philosophy in that regard, but It’d7 still be nice if you treated me8 with something at least.
- How about a Chalet?
- That’ll9 do just fine, thanks.
- Tough = ‘hard/difficult’. Tough problem. Tough question.
- If I won the lottery I would buy you all the smiles in the world. The second conditional is being used here. (If + past simple + would + infinitive). I.e., If you lived in the United States you would speak English perfectly.
- If I won the lottery then I would take you out for dinner. The second conditional is being used here to describe an unlikely or hypothetical situation.
- If you suddenly went from rags to riches. The expression ‘rags to riches’ is a common expression to refer to somebody going from ‘poor to rich’.
- I’d give you my love. I’d can mean either I had, or I would. The contractions with would and had are as follows: I’d, you’d, he’d, she’d, it’d, we’d, you’d (plural), they’d.
- If I hadn’t worked for my wealth, I wouldn’t have appreciated everything I have achieved. This is an example of the third conditional in English, which we use for completely hypothetical or impossible situations. The rule is: if + had + past participle + would + have + past participle. I.e., If you had learnt Spanish when you were four, you would have spoken really well.
- It’d still be nice. The contraction of I’d in this case is it would.
- But it’d still be nice if you treated me with something. We use the verb treat to describe the action of giving something to someone for free. I.e., I’ll treat you this drink. My mom treated me to a new car.
- That’ll do just fine. That’ll is the contraction of that will. The forms of the modal auxiliary verb will are: I’ll, you’ll, he’ll, she’ll, it’ll, we’ll, you’ll (plural), they’ll.
- You’re welcome. You’re is the contracted form of you are. The contracted forms of be in the first person are: I’m, you’re, he’s, she’s, it’s, we’re, you’re (plural), they’re.
Modal auxiliary verbs:
- Articles (a/an, the, zero article)
- Pronouns: subject, object and possessive
- Question tags
- English conditionals
- Interrogatives in English
- Phrasal verbs
- Prefixes and suffixes
- Reported and direct speech
- Punctuation: apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, commas, dashes, full stops, question marks, exclamation marks, and quotation marks
- Numbers: cardinal, ordinal, and Roman numbers
- The verb: “get”
- ‘Get’ vs. ‘go’ and ‘got’ vs. ‘gotten’
- Copular verbs
- Cleft sentences
- Subjunctive in English
- Vulgar and taboo in English
- Split infinitive
- Emphasis with inversion
- Gerunds in English
- To + infinitive
- Bare infinitive
- British and American spelling