Difference Between Would and Could (With Table)

The verb is a word or group of words that tells about the state of action being done. Usually, just before Verbs, different words are used to enhance the sentence structure and help the verb state the tense. These words are called helping words.

Would and could fall in the same category of helping verbs. They share a slight difference when used. For Non-Native English speakers, it can be confusing at many times resulting in great perplexity as many words may give the same meaning, and on the other hand, a single word can give many different meanings.

Would vs Could

The difference between ‘would’ and ‘could’ is the expression. ‘Would’ expresses imagination and uncertainty. It is usually used when a situation is imagined but not possible, whereas ‘could’ expresses possibility. ‘Could’ is used in the state of certainty, in other words, when an action or event is possible.

‘Would’ has different many uses, but it is often used as the past tense of will. It is used for a repetitive former experience that doesn’t take place any more. ‘Would’ also show willingness in the past. For example, I would not let him go to the party. It is used for reported speech in place of ‘will.’

‘Could’ is used for making requests and suggestions. It is also used to sound politer. It can be used as an auxiliary verb and a modal verb both. It is usually used with a main verb. When could is used with an auxiliary verb or modal verb, it stays in its base form. ‘Could’ is unlikely to change its form according to the subject.

Comparison Table Between Would and Could

Parameters of comparisonWouldCould
DefinitionWould is an auxiliary verb that indicates or expresses the consequence of an imagined situation or event.Could is an auxiliary verb that indicates or expresses possibility.
Root wordThe root word for would is “Will.”The root word for could is “Could.”
UsageIt is used to state ability, possibility, surprise, doubt, requests, offer, and permission.It is used in making polite requests, suggestions, indicating annoyance and a strong inclination.  
Sentence structure1. Subject + Would + Infinitive 2. Subject + Would + Have + Past Participle1. Subject + Could + Infinitive 2. Subject + Could + Have + Past Participle
ExampleRequest: Would you please bring me a glass of water?Annoyance: You could have told me!

What is Would?

‘Would’ has its origin from the word wolde from old English. In other words, the root word for ‘would’ is “Will”. It is used as a helping verb. It can be shortened to “‘d;” for example, I’d go to the market. It is used for the past tense of will. For example, She said she would be busy for a few days.

‘Would’ expresses the conditional mood or consequences of an imagined situation or event. For example, He would fail if teachers knew he cheated during the exam. It also expresses the desire or inclination towards anything. For example, I would love to go on a world tour alone if given a chance.

Would is used to give advice. For example: If I were you, I would have dropped the year to focus on my health. It is used in making polite requests. For example: Would you please help me to clear the mess in the office.

Would is used to express willingness or consent. For example: Would she live here?

Would is used to express opinion or hope. For example, I would imagine that she must have been married by now. It is used to express a wish or regret. For example: Would that she had lived to witness her grandchildren calling her name.

What is Could?

‘Could’ has its origin from the word cunnan from old English, which is related to the Dutch word kunnen and the German word können. In other words, the root word for ‘could’ is ‘can.’ It is also used as a helping verb. It is the past tense of ‘can,’ though we don’t usually use ‘could’ as it states the activities or incidents from the past.

‘Could’ is used to express a possibility from the present or future. For example, It could be his last round to qualify for nationals. It is also used to make suggestions. For example: Could you get an earlier flight to Mumbai?

‘Could’ is used to ask for permissions as it is more polite and formal than can. For example: Could I submit my article tomorrow as I am unwell. But in the answers to permissions, one cannot use ‘could’ as it states certainty. ‘Could’ also states ability from the past. For example: When I was young, I could run for an hour continuously.

‘Could’ also states the possibility. For example, She could have gone home instead of staying unnecessarily in the hostel during Diwali. Additionally, it is used to express criticism. For example, You could have apologized for your mistake. ‘Could’ also states regret. For example, I could have done better in the exam.

Main Differences Between Would and Could

  1. Theoretically, would is the past tense of “will” whereas, could is the past tense of “can”.
  2. ‘Would’ is used to expresses ability, possibility, surprise, doubt, requests, offer, and permission whereas, ‘could’ indicates or expresses possibility.
  3. ‘Would’ has its origin from the word wolde, whereas ‘could’ has its origin from the word cunnan.
  4. ‘Would’ expresses imaginary and uncertainty, whereas, could is used in the state of certainty.
  5. An example of ‘would’ is, “Would you please pass me the charger?” whereas an example for ‘could’ is, “Charging phone for more time could damage its battery”.

Conclusion

Would and could are the past tense of “will” and “can”, but generally, we don’t use could while stating incidents from the past. In fact, ‘would’ and ‘could’ belong to the same category of parts of speech that is the verb. They share a lot of commonalities and a slight difference.

Would is used to express the conditional mood or consequences of an imagined situation or an event and could is used to express a possibility from the present or future. Using these words rightly according to their use gives more vivid clarity in understanding and comprehending the text.

References

  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0075424209348151
  2. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Modal-Expressions-in-English-Perkins/eeb79c37be0f521a04c9036f926039ee991b6854?p2df