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Modal auxiliaries are helping verbs that connect with normal/ordinary verbs to express a meaning, ask a question or negate. Modal auxiliaries are never used with the main auxiliaries; be, have and do, and do not make sense on their own, therefore, they must be connected with a normal verb in order to make sense. Modal verbs also never change form (they cannot be conjugated). Dictionary definition according to Merriam Webster: ”an auxiliary verb (such as can, must, might, may) that is characteristically used with a verb of predication and expresses a modal modification and that in English differs formally from other verbs in lacking -s and -ing forms”. 

Here, we are going to elaborate on the modal auxiliary verb would.  (Note that modal auxiliaries are never followed by ‘to’ before the infinitive, except with, need to, ought to, and dare to)..

We mainly use ‘would’ for conditional use. In English, there are four: zero, first, second and third conditional. Only the conditionals two and three require the usage of ‘would’ but we will outline all four conditionals nevertheless.


(1) 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.


(2) 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.


(3) 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.


(4) 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 would 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 would have given you at least half of my winnings.


See also: 

Modal auxiliaries: 



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