Would Have vs Could Have: Difference and Comparison

Verbs like ‘would have’ and ‘could have’ are modal verbs. So like other normal verbs, they do not have past forms. Hence, people can talk about the past by adding a past participle after ‘could have’ and ‘would have’ in a sentence.

They both almost mean the same thing, but their meanings would completely change if exchanged with each other in a sentence.

Key Takeaways

  1. Would have is used to describe something that did not happen in the past but was a possibility, while could have is used to describe something possible but did not happen in the past.
  2. Would have is used to express regret, disappointment, or a missed opportunity, while could have is used to express the potential for a different outcome.
  3. Would have is often used to speculate about what might have happened if different choices had been made, while could have is often used to describe a missed opportunity or a hypothetical scenario.

Would Have vs Could Have

“Could have” is used to indicate the possibility that an event could occur in retrospect, but it didn’t occur in real life. It also indicates the failure of a chance. “Would have” represents the chances of occurrence of an event or a act in a imaginary situation that actually didn’t happen.

Would Have vs Could Have


The expression ‘would have’ often is used to ascertain or express certainty in case of an event or happening. When a person wants to indicate and describe if a certain action happened certainly, then the outcome would have taken place by using would have.

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The expression ‘could have’ often denotes that something could have happened in the past if a specific thing was done, but a person didn’t do it. It’s a modal of ability.

Comparison Table

Parameters of comparisonWould HaveCould Have
Meaning‘Would have’ often is used in sentences when
we talk about a situation that we only imagine or of things that frequently happened in the past.
‘Could have’ is mainly used to discuss possible actions or happenings in the present or the future.
SituationIt denotes a possible situationIt denotes an imaginary situation.
Usage ‘Would have’ is used to make the request offer and seek permission.‘Could have’ is used in making
suggestions, requests, or seeking permission.
Tense‘Would have’ denotes possibility in a sentence.‘Could have’ denotes certainty and ability in a sentence.
ExampleShe would attend the meeting if she were well.She could have finished her homework, but she chose not to.

What is Would Have?

‘Would have’ is used when a person wants to show if someone wants to do something or not (volition). A person can also use ‘would have’ when talking about something they wanted but didn’t.

The term ‘would have’ is used when something almost certain to happen in a normal course did not happen or something went wrong due to which it did not happen.

Example:
1. I would have eaten breakfast but got late for the office.
2. I would have done my homework but didn’t understand anything.
3. I would have been late if the bus hadn’t arrived on time.

‘Would have’ is a possibility for an event to happen or not happen due to external forces. It is used to describe the ability of a sentence.

Regarding requests, we can use both ‘could have’ and ‘would have,’ but ‘could have’ is more formal and polite than ‘would have.’

While making polite requests, ‘could have’ is used with suggestions, indicating a possibility. On the contrary, ‘would have’ is used with offers or invites because it is more usual.

What is Could Have?

‘Could have’ is used when a person wants to make a confident approximate guess about something that happened in the past. This is a modal of possibility.

In this case, the guess a person is making a statement may or may not be true. It is just a point of opinion that may have happened.

‘Could have’ is an expression often used to describe or express the possibility of something that could have happened. It implies that when people use could have in a sentence, they are implying that there existed a possibility of something happening, but it did not.

Example:
1. You could have attended the party but decided not to.
2. I could have stayed up late, but I had my exam the next morning, so I decided to go to bed early.
3. He could have studied harder but was lazy enough, so he failed the exam.

‘Could have’ denotes that something was possible with a fair possibility of fulfilling certain conditions. When people talk about the last use they could have, we refer to things they could have done in the past but chose not to or couldn’t.

When people talk about possibility, it should be understood that when they say there was a possibility of something happening, the possibility of a thing not going down the way they want to be, is also considered.

Main Differences Between Would Have and Could Have

  1. ‘Would have’ is used to denote the possibility of something, whereas ‘could have’ is used to indicate certainty or ability of something.
  2. ‘Would have’ shows a person’s desire to do something, but they could not, whereas ‘could have’ indicates that something was possible in the past but didn’t happen.
  3.  ‘Would have’ is used as past tense action, whereas ‘could have’ describes past tense actions.
  4.  ‘Would have’ is used in a sentence to convey a desired tone. Whereas ‘could have’ is used to hold a manner of criticism.
  5.  ‘Would have’ in a sentence denotes a specific consequence of an unreal condition, whereas ‘could have’ in a particular sentence indicates a possible result of an actual situation.
References
  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00138383208596592
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028393213000298
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