Difference Between Would and Could

Grammar can be quite a challenge to learn and adapt to while learning a new language.


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When it comes to English grammar, the job just tends to become a little harder since it is one of the languages with many rules and possibilities of a wrong rule being applied to change the meaning of the sentence.

Could and would are two such words whose differentiation is not well known. The common usage for both are portraying requests but apart from these, they are not to be used in the same sentence in place of the other. But how do we identify which one to use where?

Key Takeaways

  1. Would and could are modal verbs used to indicate possibility or willingness.
  2. Would is used to express a hypothetical situation or a future intention.
  3. Could is used to express ability or possibility in the present or future.

Would vs Could

The difference between Could and Would is that could is used to portray requests or for asking permissions whereas would is used for describing a probability or a possibility. They can also be used for portraying preferences.

Would vs Could

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Could is the past principle of ‘can’. It is usually used for seeking permission and is applied only for possible situations. This means the situation is not created but it is your presence in the situation that is being questioned. For example: Could I go to the party this weekend?

Would is the past principle of ‘will’. Though they are also used for making requests, their main usage is for portraying probability or preference in a given situation. They are mostly applied to imaginary situations. For example: Would I be able to visit Mars someday?

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonCouldWould
MeaningThe past tense of canIt is the past tense of will
ImplicationImplies seeking permission or ability of an individualImplies probability, preference, etc.
Main UsageIt is mainly used to portray requestsUsed in reported speech, or to express habitual actions
Secondary usageFor expressing abilityFor expressing probability or possibility
SituationUsed in possible situationsUsed in imaginary situations

What is Could?

Could is a conditional verb that is frequently used in English grammar for giving meaning to a sentence. On changing the context of the word ‘could’, the meaning of the sentence may also change.

It is mainly represented as the past tense of the word ‘can’ and is often seen to be used in sentences where there is a request being made or there is a requirement to seek for permission.

For example:

  1. “Could I go outside today?” – In this sentence, ‘could’ is used for seeking permission
  2. “Could you come with me?”- In this sentence, ‘could’ is used for making a request.

The other application of the word is for showing annoyance or for showing strong denial. For example:

  1. “Could you please go away now?” – ‘could’ in this sentence is used for showing annoyance.
  2. “He talks so much that I could run away from here.” – ‘could’ in this sentence is used to show a strong denial of wanting to continue being in the given situation and the need to get away from it.

What is Would?

Would is also a conditional verb that is often used in English grammar for adding meaning to a sentence. This conditional verb also has many applications and are mostly seen to be used in reports.

They are the past principle of ‘will’ and are often seen to be used to express habitual actions of an individual. For example: “She would do that.” Or “It is something she would do.” They are typically also used for showing possibility or asking and expressing preferences.

For example:

  1. “Would it rain today?”- here, ‘would’ is used to show possibility.
  2. “I would prefer tea over coffee.”- here ‘would’ is used to express a preference.

Main Differences Between Could and Would

  1. Could is a conditional verb that is defined as the past principle of ‘can’ whereas would is the conditional verb that is used as the past principle of ‘will.’
  2. The two words imply different meanings and this is what differentiates them. The word ‘could’ implies seeking permission or making a request. On the other hand, the word ‘would’ implies preferences and probabilities during a situation.
  3. Since the implications are different, their primary applications are also different. Would is used in reported speech and for showing habitual actions whereas could is used for making requests.
  4. The secondary application of the word ‘would’ is for expressing probability and preference. The secondary application of the word ‘could’ is for expressing one’s ability.
  5. The situations the two words are used can also be sued for clearing their separate usage. Could is used in possible situations as it would be indicating the possible presence of something during an actual situation. In the case of would, it is used in imaginary situations as the scene or the necessary situation is not happening yet.
Difference Between Would and Could
  1. Oxford Modern English Grammar – Bas Aarts – Google Books
  2. Modal expressions in English (semanticscholar.org)
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