It can be confusing for learners when they hear native speakers use ‘would’ all the time. In English, the modal verb ‘would’ is used in three different contexts. Do you know all of them? Take a look at the examples below:
- I‘d (= I would) call you if I had the time.
- Her father would always buy them nice presents for Christmas.
- I decided I‘d visit him next time.
Try to match each sentence to the explanations below:
We use would + infinitive when talking about a hypothetical or imaginary/not real situation. For example, in second conditional statements:
- I‘d probably get a new job in his situation.
- I wouldn’t be here if I knew that he was coming!
- What would you do if you won the lottery?
- The dogs would bark if they didn’t have anything to eat.
Notice that in a second conditional statement, the if … part of the sentence is in the past tense (didn’t have) and the other part contains would + infinitive (would bark). In each of the examples above, we are talking about situations that we imagine, not real situations.
Future in the past
We use would + infinitive when referring to a future statement (will + infinitive) made in the past. For example:
Mark, I knew you would come! (PAST THOUGHT: “Mark will come. I know it!”)
Here are some more examples:
- I thought it would rain today. I guess I was wrong.
- You said you wouldn’t call me after midnight.
- The computer store promised that someone would fix my computer.
Habits in the past
We also use would + infinitive to describe past habits, things that happened regularly in the past but do not happen now.
- When Joseph lived in Italy, he‘d eat out (= eat in restaurants) all the time.
- Angela was a very honest person. She‘d never lie to you.
- When the children were younger, they‘d always play with the dog.
Here are the answers to the task above:
- I’d (= I would) call you if I had the time. – hypothetical situation
- Her father would always buy them nice presents for Christmas. – past habit
- I decided I’d visit him next time. – future in the past