Thank you for your time reading this.

I am from China and have learned British English for years from my middle school to undergraduate time. I normally take 'would' as the past form of 'will', though I know 'would' may also work as an auxiliary verb which could be used in subjunctive mood.

Now I come to the United States and have got confused about 'would' and 'will' very much. In the past, whenever it came to something related to the future, I would use 'will'. Now in the USA, people use 'would' a lot. For example, if we are talking about MIT, some guy may say 'I would go to MIT someday'. For me, I prefer to say 'I will go to MIT someday and I will surely make it!' There are many similar examples. I know grammatically both sentences must be correct but I just can't understand the usage of 'would' here.

I have looked up some information online. They helped a lot. For example, people say'would' can be used to express your desire or hope. However, from my memory of middle school, it is 'will' that could be used to express your willingness to do something.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, both words can be used to express a desire or wish. Then why people prefer 'would' to 'will'?

I am totally lost! People keep using 'would' under those circumstances which I will use 'will' and this really annoys me a lot.


  • 1
    I am not aware of any significant differences in the way British and Americans use 'will' and 'would'. I know it does present considerable problems to non-native speakers, and I have noticed on this site that it seems to cause Chinese speakers an especial difficulty. You perhaps need to refer back to English Language & Learners and go over the examples again. If you can offer some specific examples I would be glad to comment on them.
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 21:26
  • @WS2 Thank you for the time. You are right. I realize that I should go over the usage of 'will' and 'would' again. I ascribed the misunderstanding to the difference between British and American English and this turns out to be wrong. There is nothing different for 'will' and 'would'. I will keep digging! I would keep digging if this kind of thing were out there. Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 22:46

5 Answers 5


(AmE, non-linguist) It's a little tricky to say would is the past form of will, as will is an auxiliary verb that doesn't conjugate normally. It does work with will as the wish meaning. Here is part of the problem, I think.

Will for the future is correct. I will go to MIT in 2 years.. If someone says I would go to MIT someday without further elaboration, I think it's not formally "correct", but just the informality of the spoken word.

The "correct" use is

*I would go to MIT if (I had the chance, the money, got in, etc.)

But I can see someone kind of saying it casually/thoughtfully

I would go to MIT. It sounds like a good thing to do.

Used to express a desire/wish, it's more in the form of

Would that I were employed and financially independent. I hate living at home still. - or I would love to live independently. (Implied: if only I could.)

Why would vs will? Will is more concrete, less conditional. I will love living on my own does not mean the same thing. It may be different for you, but in the US, will is something we ask youngsters, who have the optimism of youth:

What will you be when you grow up? Typical answer: I'm going to be a horse trainer/veterinarian/scientist/doctor/nurse/teacher/mother/father/truck driver/fire fighter/movie star, etc.

As we age, wills become woulds.

I would like to be a musician/writer/lawyer/activist/therapist, etc.

It is also seen as a less presumptuous/prideful way to express a desire. It's called a softening word.

(college student:) "I'm going to be a doctor." (Other college student:) "In your dreams! Do you know how hard it is to get into Med School?"


(college student:) "I would like to be a doctor. I hope I get in (-to Medical School.)" (Other college student:) "Yeah, so would I. That would really be great. Hey, do you want to study together?"

"This really annoys me a lot."

Yeah, I know plenty of people that let the way others speak really bother them. It drives me crazy when people say drownded or real-a-tor. Don't let on, though. It's not cool. I would (<- softening word) try to accept this as a foible of your adopted culture. Que sera and all that. Having a pre-planned reply to a particular annoyance might help. (Would you? Tell me a bit about that.)

Good luck, and welcome to EL&U. We are happy to answer questions about English.

  • 2
    Excellent answer, discussing many of the relevant issues and alternatives. +1 (once my votes refresh in an hour). Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 22:54
  • 1
    @Susan You are the BEST!!! Is it possible to follow your page or posts in this website? Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 23:01
  • Wow, thanks! :) You just made my day. In the menu up top, you can click on User and type my name into the box, then click on it when it comes up. I'm not very follow-worthy, though. But I appreciate it. Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 23:10
  • @AppalachianMath You could also just click on Susan's name where it appears at the end of her answer.
    – user867
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 3:36

You are/were right. Your friend who says "I would go to MIT someday" is wrong, unless there is some condition applied (or implied). For example, s?he might reasonably say, "I would go to the zoo someday if there were a bus that passed by it."

(Note that this is different from "I will go to the zoo someday if there is a bus that passes by it.")

But I would suggest this, which might help: The next time you hear someone say "would" in a context where it sounds odd to you, ask about it. The person will perhaps explain what s?he means and why it makes sense. After two or three such incidents you should have a more solid feeling for what is meant and when you can use "would".

  • @Drew, can you explain why you used would in I would suggest?
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 22:43
  • Got it. I will thank you if you reply.I would very much thank you if your answer cleared up the question. Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 22:49
  • @ColinFine My understanding: the 'would' he makes bold is used to express willingness or preference. It can be replaced by 'would want to', 'would like to', or even 'would rather/sooner'. Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 22:59
  • 1
    @ColinFine: ;-) [If I were requested to provide my input] I would humbly suggest... Dunno, really -- I'm not a linguist. But that would be my guess: an implied if. There is some primeval, deontologically unsticky subjunctiveness swarming between my ears and behind my eyes, no doubt, that induces me to say such things.
    – Drew
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 23:01
  • I absolutely accept that Drew's use of "would" there is idiomatic. But to use it (and embolden it) immediately after explaining that "would" needs a conditional, is rather unhelpful, don't you think?
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 4, 2014 at 18:40

Will is an auxiliary verb used to create a definite statement of intention. I will go to sleep.

Would is auxiliary verb used to create an indefinite statement of intention. I will go to sleep. I would go to sleep, if the music were not so loud.

Most dictionaries define a number contexts in which an indefinite statement of intention would be appropriate.

  • For will, did you mean it is used to create indefinite statement of intention? Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 22:04

My opinion in this regard is that, will is used in the case of surety and would is used in the case in which we are not sure, but future always not sure. But take it sure when we will 100% agree and when there is a chance of 50-50.

  • Only when used in the subjunctive. As the past tense of will, "surety" has nothing to do with it. "What did he say?" "He said that he would come."
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 6:45

Your friends statement("I would go to MIT someday") was grammatically incorrect.

After doing little net surfing,I get some datas related to this. I think this might be helpful,

Will and would are both types of auxiliary verbs that are known as modal verbs.

Will is a definite statement, which means that you use it when you are certain that the future action is going to take place. --For example: ‘I will go and collect the mail in the morning’. will can be used to talk about quick decisions, promises, offers and a likely prediction.

Would is an English modal verb and has many different uses, which include: invitations, requests, asking permission, talking about preferences and making arrangements. --For example: ‘Would you like to come to the party on Saturday?’ is an invitation, ‘Would you be able to post this parcel for me?’ is a request.

Would is also used to talk about imaginary or unlikely situations. For example: ‘If I knew where he lived, I would visit him.

  • The definite statement is shall, with the modal (conditional or less definite) form being should. The statement of intent is will, with the modal form being would. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 0:57

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