Please correct me if I'm wrong, but if "would" implies intention but not possibility, then, generally, it must only refer to persons not events. If such is the case, then this sentence, "Would it be right to kill innocent animals?" must be rewritten to sound like,"Is it right to kill innocent animals?"

Am I correct?

And if my understanding is true, does it also apply to "will", such that the sentence, "The next world war will happen in the next three days", be rewritten to sound like, "The next world war probably starts in three days"? Please enlighten me on this issue.

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    You'd better ask the question at the ELL section, here Dec 2, 2014 at 17:48
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    Would, being a modal auxiliary verb, has a number of meanings. In particular, it has a deontic meaning was willing to, was in the habit of, and an epistemic meaning be likely true, given a particular hypothesis. It's the second meaning that you are talking about; the hypothesis is "killing of innocent animals" (whatever that may mean in context) and the question is whether the killing is possibly "right", given the fact of their "innocence" (again, for certain values of "right" and "innocence"). Dec 2, 2014 at 18:35
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    "Would" can indicate either intention or possibility. It depends on the specific construction it's being used in and on the context. You misunderstood my comment on your previous question. Dec 2, 2014 at 18:52

2 Answers 2


In highly traditional English, will/would in the first person is/was not used to express possibility only, but rather intent of some sort. Even so, the large majority of modern writers and speakers have deviated from this practice and use will/would for a neutral sense of possibility in the first person too.

At any rate, will/would has been used by the majority to express possibility for the second and third person for many centuries; it has been used as in your examples for a long time by almost everyone. There is therefore not even the hint of an issue or problem in your examples, and so there is no reason to remove the will/would.

  • It would be unusual to use a different modal verb in this sentence. How would English speakers who only use would for intent rephrase it? Dec 2, 2014 at 22:15
  • @PeterShor: I'm not sure which sentence you mean? There are to my knowledge no speakers or writers who would not use would in the OP's example. For the first person, the alternative would be should, but none of the OP's examples are in the first person. Edit: in case it was a misunderstanding, I have emphasised first person in my answer; perhaps it was too inconspicuous. Dec 2, 2014 at 23:56
  • "I would tell you the tale"
    – kennebec
    Dec 3, 2014 at 0:14
  • @kennebec: Yes, that is probably the use of would expressing intent/volition. Dec 3, 2014 at 1:22
  • How would you rephrase the sentence "it would be unusual to find a unicorn in the forest"? Here, "would" is definitely not being used to express intent, but I don't see any way of rewriting it without doing away Dec 3, 2014 at 3:25

Would can indicate possibility. "What would you do if you won a million pounds?"

  • That's the deontic sense -- what do you want to do? Dec 2, 2014 at 18:36
  • @JohnLawler: I'm not sure I would say that. In this question, I think the intent is implicit in asking what someone else might do, not in the word would itself, which I think is epistemic there for most speakers of modern English. Cf. what would you like to drink?: the volition/intent is in the situation, mainly in like, not in the word would. Fowler, to whom would in the first person must still express volition, disapproved of I would like for that very reason, but most speakers say it (rather than Fowler's I should like). Dec 2, 2014 at 20:52

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