Grammar 101

During one of my more recent editions of Grammar 101, Betshopboy asked if I could describe the correct usage of “would” or “will” and when you should use which word. They serve very similar grammatical functions, but the two words cannot be used interchangeably. The rules can be a little muddy, so the best way to learn is with practice and a good proofreader.

Generally speaking, the word would should be used when you are referring to things that happened in the past or events that are hypothetical. This includes predictions made in the past about some event yet to happen in the future. This also includes events that are contingent on other events and, as such, are not certain to happen. Here are a few examples:

If I enjoyed science more, I would have pursued a career in physics.
Do you think he would go if Megan went too?
Would you like me to help you with your luggage?
Jane would always sleep downstairs when my Joe started snoring.
Brad knew the store would be closed today, so he went yesterday.

On the other hand, the word will is generally used when you are referring to events that set to happen in the future. This includes simple predictions and promises. Using “will” instead of “would” also implies a level of certainty, which is why it can be rude to ask someone if she “will” pick you up from the airport rather than if she “would” pick you up from the airport. Here are a few more examples.

We all know that Ed will be late for Dot Com Pho again.
I promise I will pay you back as soon as I can.
It looks like it will be a dark and stormy night.
The Olympics will be starting next February in Vancouver.
After Stephen is done with his car, he will buy another Subaru.

Still having trouble understanding the difference? Try this handy quiz to test your knowledge.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 post? Let me know through the comment form below, since we all need good grammar, right?