Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Will vs Would

The Sunday Times article (22 February 2009) on the right (click for a larger version) featured tourists who were visiting Singapore despite the current economic doom and gloom, and asked among other things whether they would visit Singapore again.
There’s an interesting contrast in the use of modals: the Sunday Times uses will in its question, but two respondents (native speakers of English from Scotland and the USA) pointedly use would in reply.
Using will for a hypothetical event is somewhat unusual — would is the better choice here.


Anonymous said...

i was just wondering, if we use 'would' for a hypothetical event, then when do we use 'will'?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

'Will' is generally used when you want to indicate that something is certain, e.g. 'We will visit Singapore again next year'. ('Shall' was formerly used in this context, but it is now considered old-fashioned.)

'Will' also tends to be used with 'when', while 'would' is usually used with 'if':

(i) I will visit India when I graduate next year. (pretty certain)

(ii) I would visit India if I had the money. (hypothetical, imaginary)

It's worth remembering that 'would' was historically the past tense form of 'will' (this survives in reported speech, e.g. John SAID he WOULD be coming). The effect of using a past form is to distance oneself from realty -- see also 'had' (rather than 'have') in (ii) above.

Anonymous said...

okay. (: thanks! then what about 'can' and 'could'? like... 'Can you lend me your pen?' vs 'Could you lend me your pen?'

The Grammar Terrorist said...

There are many differences between the two, but in this context, 'could' is better since it is used for requests: 'Could you lend me your pen?'

'Can', on the other hand, is used for offers, e.g. 'Can I help in any way?'

If you're interested in finding out more, Practical English Usage (by Michael Swan) is a good place to start -- it has seven pages comparing the different uses of the two modals!

Anonymous said...

(: thanks!

Kazzzzzzz said...

So the ad should have read:

"Would you come back?"
"We will"

Something lidat??

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Yes -- that'd sound less tentative. It's a news article, actually, so they were interviewing real people.

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