Lesson Transcript

Hi, everybody. My name is Alisha. In this lesson, I'm going to talk about the differences between "would, could, and should." I'm going to give a very quick introduction to several different ways that we use these words and share a few example sentences so that you can get an idea of the kinds of patterns that we use when we're using these words. Let's begin with the word "would."
Okay. In blue, I've marked a couple of key points for a review of ways that we can use the word "would." These are made with some key grammar points in mind. Let's begin with the first point here. We use "would" to talk about unreal situations in the present. That means situations that are not real, things that are not true, but we want to talk about them. So, these are very common "if" patterns. For example, "If I were… I would. If he were… he would." You can see both of these start with an "if" statement. That means that these are not real situations. We're just talking about the possibility of something. And then we're describing an action. In this case, it's a positive action with the word "would." For example, "If I were a doctor, I would work in a hospital," for example. In that example sentence, I'm not a doctor but I'm explaining if I were a doctor, I would work in a hospital. I don't use the verb "will" because it's not an actual situation and I don't expect it's going to happen. I'm just talking about an unreal situation.
Another point here is your pronunciation. When you use the word "would," we'll contract it along with whatever you're talking about. For example, "I would" becomes "I'd." "He would" becomes "he'd." And we'll see some more examples of this kind of pronunciation a little bit later. But when you're pronouncing, "If I were… I would" is correct, but to make it sound a little bit more natural, use, "If I were… I'd." It sounds a lot better. This is the first point, talking about unreal situations in the present. Of course, you can use a negative here. "If I were a doctor, I wouldn't drink alcohol," for example. We can use the positive would and the negative wouldn't in these patterns.
Then similarly, the second point I want to introduce today is using "would" to talk about unreal situations in the past. This is about the present. We just reviewed how to use "would" in the present. But if you're using "would," you can also use it to talk about unreal situations in the past, so things in the past that were not true. In these cases, we'll use a past tense verb in the "if" clause here. For example, "If I had, blah, blah, blah." In this case, I'm using this to explain like an action that I did not do, but if, just in case, in this situation that the action did happen. I'm using this pattern, "if I had" and then a verb would come after that. For example, "If I had woken up earlier, I would have been on time for school," for example.
These are past tense, unreal situations, or past unreal situations rather. Here, we see "would" again, but when we're using "would" to talk about unreal situations in the past, we need to use "have" to make a positive statement. "I would have," and the pronunciation changes to "would've." "If I had, I would've." Of course, we can use "would not have" as well to make a negative statement. "If I had, I would not have," and in a contracted pronunciation and a reduced pronunciation, it sounds like, "I wouldn't have." Or even shorter, "wouldn't" as well. "If I had, I would've." "If I hadn't, I wouldn't have," for example. Another one. If she had… she would have." In natural pronunciation, "If she had become a teacher, she would have taught math," for example. These are unreal. These are not true. These "if" statements introduce something that is not true. But we want to talk about the possibility. That's all.
Okay. Let's move along to the next use that I have in blue here. Just a quick one because there's not much space on the board. First, used to talk about the future in the past. This might be a little bit confusing. This means when you want to talk about your past but you want to explain something you were thinking or something you were considering about the future at that time, you can use "would" to do that. An example, "When I was, past tense, when I was a kid, I thought, again past tense, I thought I would be a doctor." Meaning, when I was a child, at that time, when I was a kid, my thinking -- I show that with past tense here. My thinking was that in the future, I would be a doctor. We use "would" to explain something in the future that we were thinking about or something in the past. Something happened in the past, some idea, for example, we use "would" to explain that future. That's this point.
Let's go on, though, to the next one. We use "would" as a past form of "will" when we're reporting something. By reporting, I mean, "He said, she said," and so on. When someone says, "I will do something," and you want to report that in the past, you can use "would" to do that. In this example, "Tom said he would pay for coffee." This doesn't mean if I'm Tom, I didn't say, "I would pay for coffee." That's not what Tom said. Tom said, "I will pay for coffee." That was Tom's expression. Tom said, "I will pay for coffee." But if I'm a different person, I want to report what Tom said, I say, "Tom said he would pay for coffee." That "would" means past tense. I'm reporting Tom's will. Tom said, "I will pay for coffee," but when I report it, I say, "Tom said he would pay for coffee." That's what's happening there. Okay. We use this to talk about reporting things.
Alright. Those are some key points, but just some other reminders too about using "would." We use "would" for formal requests like, "Would you like some coffee? Would you like some tea?" We also use it to talk about regular actions in the past. This is similar to "used to," but we use "would" to explain things that we did regularly. For example, "When I was a kid, I would eat ice cream every day," for example. Or, "When I was in university, I would see my friends every afternoon." We can use "would" to do that to explain regular activities in the past. But maybe these are particularly challenging so you might need to take some time to review these grammar points as well.
Okay. Let's move along and maybe compare this to "could." Let's look at the second point for today. "Could." We use "could" to talk about possible situations in the present possible situations. This is a key difference from "would." "Would" is unreal situation. It's something that is not true now. "Could" refers to something that is possible, like something we can possibly do now or very soon in the future. For example, "We could see a movie today." In this sentence, we're showing it's possible to see a movie today. We can't use, "We would see a movie today." That doesn't make sense. Here, we're expressing possibility only. "We could see a movie today." It's possible to see a movie today.
In this sentence, "You could try a new recipe," for example. Here, it's possible to try a new recipe. It's possible for you to try a new recipe. Both of these actually sound like suggestions. If someone said, "What do you want to do today?" And the other person replied, "We could see a movie today." It's a suggestion. They're suggesting a possible activity. Same thing here. "What do you want to eat for dinner tonight?" The other person responds. "You could try a new recipe," like for someone who's cooking. These express possibility and we cannot use "would" here because we don't use "would" to give suggestions about things that are possible. We're just talking about a situation that's not true.
Okay. Similarly, we can use this to talk about possible unreal situations in the past. Here, yes, we have unreal again, like we saw with "would." But here, we're also talking about possible situations. Let's look at the examples first then we can compare. Here, past tense, "If I had, I could have." And again, this actually reduces. "Could have" reduces to "could've." "If I had," or "If I'd, if I'd, I could have." For example, "If I had studied harder, I could have passed the test. If I'd studied harder, I could've passed the test." That's how a native speaker would say it. "If I had studied harder, I could have passed the test." This is actually quite similar to, "If I had studied harder, I would have passed the test." What's the difference there? This one sounds more confident. "If I had studied harder, I would have passed the test." We're using "would have" here, meaning that there's a high level of confidence. Here, we're only talking about possibility. "If I had studied harder, I could have passed the test." It was possible. Using "would have" shows like, "If I had studied harder, I'm pretty sure I will," in other words. Think of this as like "will" but for like an unreal situation. "I would have passed the test. I didn't, but I would have if I had studied harder." This is "could have." They're quite similar here; just different levels of confidence.
In the next one, "If you had, you could have." In this example, "If you had sent him a message, you could have met him for dinner." This means the other person did not send a message, and therefore, did not meet the other person for dinner, but it was possible to do that in the past. Here, if we use this expression, "If you had sent him a message, you would have met him for dinner," it sounds a little bit odd because it's quite a high level of certainty. This is like "will" again, like you would have met him for dinner. There's like a definite, it's a definite thing. Here, however, it's just a possibility. "If you had sent him a message, you could have met him for dinner." That shows it would have been possible to meet for dinner, to use kind of a confusing expression there. But meaning, the possibility was there but you had to have done this thing first. So, possibility here.
Alright. Let's move on to the next point. We use "could" to express past ability. For example, "When I was little, I could speak Spanish." Here, we see, again past, "when I was little," meaning a little kid, physically little, "I could speak Spanish." We can think of this like past tense "can." That's all. Okay. Another one. We use this to express impossibility that something is impossible, or for that matter, possible. I'll show a possible example and then an impossible example, too. Okay. First one, this could be the correct address. Meaning, it's possible this is the correct address. This shows that there's just a possibility. If, however, we use "not" here -- sorry, this is "not." I know it's really small there, but if I use "not," "This could not be the correct address." Using "could not" shows something is totally impossible, 100% impossible. No chance. "This could not be the correct address." It's not possible. For example, this address is like 555 ABC Street. The correct address is like, I don't know, 444 ABC Street or something. "This could not be the correct address." Something is wrong.
Here, we see the same thing, "could not" except that I've contracted it. Also, I've used past tense here. "That couldn't have been Sara. She's at work." In this sentence, for example, "I'm out shopping and I think I see my colleague Sara, but I think to myself, no, that couldn't have been Sara." Here's my past tense, "couldn't have been." "That couldn't have been Sara. Sara's at work. I know my colleague is at work. It's not possible that that was Sara because Sara is at work." I used "couldn't have been" to express that. Showing past impossibility, I use this expression to do it. Okay. Lots there. A couple other reminders. We use "could" to ask permission. "Could I do something?" We also use it for requests as well. "Could you please help me with something?" Just a couple extra reminders there.
Alright. Let's move on to the last point for this lesson. The word "should." We use "should" to give and request advice. Examples, "You should find a new apartment." Here, "should" comes before the verb. "You should find a new apartment" is a suggestion. That's advice to somebody. "He should get a new job." That's someone's recommendation, a piece of advice. "They should stop smoking." Again, advice. When you want to request advice, you could use a simple pattern like, "What should I do?" or "What do you think I should do?" or "What should I get?" for example. We also use "should" to talk about improvements to past actions. This is commonly used to express regret or like we wish we had done something differently. We wish that we maybe chose something different. Examples of this. "I should have studied more." Here, we have "should." "Here is my past activity that I did not do enough of." Here, in other words, my feeling is I did not study enough in the past. I want to express more study would have been better. So, I say, "I should have studied more." is a native speaker pronunciation. "I should have studied more."
This "more" refers to more than I did in the past. You'll see this used with the comparative form of adjectives quite a lot. Example, a second example, "You shouldn't have had so much to drink." Here, we see the negative. "You shouldn't have had." "You shouldn't have had" is how we'll say it. "You shouldn't have had so much to drink." In other words, you drank too much. "You should not have had so much to drink. You shouldn't have had so much to drink." You drank too much, in other words. This is an improvement to a past action. Someone is suggesting an improvement. Like, "I wish you hadn't had so much to drink," for example. "You shouldn't have had."
One more. "He should have spoken to her." Here, we see "should," and again past, in this case. "He should have spoken to her." Meaning, he did not speak to her but the speaker feels, "Oh, he should have. That would have been a good choice. He should have spoken to her." We use this to talk about often regret, things we did not do but we think now, "Ah, I should have done that thing."
Okay. That's a very, actually, quick introduction to some huge, huge grammar points. If you have questions about any of these points, please let me know in the comments so that I can find like a key point and make a different video explaining more about that point. If you have questions or if you have comments or if you want to practice making a sentence, please feel free to do so in the comment section of this video. Thanks very much for watching this lesson and I will see you again soon. Bye-bye.


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EnglishClass101.com Verified
Tuesday at 06:30 PM
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Please let us know if you have any questions.

EnglishClass101.com Verified
Friday at 03:31 PM
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Hello Kenji,

Thanks a lot for getting in touch. 😄

Glad this lesson helped you with the words: would, could and should.

The word 'will' is a verb used to express inevitable events. The word 'would' is a verb indicating the consequence of an imagined event or situation. As defined, 'will' is used to real possibilities while 'would' is used for imagined situations in the future. Some examples are: "You will be cold if you don't bring a jacket" and "I would love to move to Tahiti."

The word 'can' is a verb meaning 'be able to.' the word 'could' is a verb used to indicate possibility. 'Can' is used to suggest a real situation while 'could' is used to discuss an issue hypothetically. Some examples are: "Can I borrow this book?" and "He could have moved to Egypt."

I hope this is helpful to you. 😄👍If you would like further assistance or if you're still having problems understanding this lesson I suggest contacting your teacher through the 'MyTeacher' feature on our site. Your personal teacher will be more than happy to assist you!👍

Most kindly,


Team EnglishClass101.com

Monday at 08:55 PM
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I understood the difference among would, could and should.

But I want to know the difference between will and would, and between can and could.

Also, how can I use these words in a real conversation?

EnglishClass101.com Verified
Thursday at 10:32 AM
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Hi there Gerard,

Thanks for getting in touch! If you have the words 'shouldn't' and 'have had' as in the statement below, this becomes past tense.

We use 'were' as a verb. It is the past subjunctive of 'be'.

I hope this is helpful to you and not too confusing. Please feel free to shoot through any more questions you need to help understand this.😄



Team EnglishClass101.com

Sunday at 10:48 PM
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Thank you for your lesson

But I don't understand why we use the present perfect for an action which is in the past ??

When you said this action is unreal, so but there is a possibility that it's happening?

And finally what we use " were " instead of was ???

I am a student who follows each movie you offer to us

You are clear and smiling

Thank you

EnglishClass101.com Verified
Wednesday at 03:50 PM
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Hello Midi and Medi,

Thank you both for your comments and questions. 😄

@Midi - I imagine you are trying to say "You shouldn't have had so much to drink" - this is speaking about the past and using the verbs 'have had' for the present perfect tense.

@Medi - It's all to do with practice and study, you will get it in no time.

I hope this is helpful to you.



Team EnglishClass101.com

Monday at 04:49 AM
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you should have had so much to drink.

what kind of tense is used?

Saturday at 08:19 PM
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You are wonderful teacher Alisha!

Thank you ❤️️

There are lots of contractions in English. How can we understand while listening. It's scaring 😭

EnglishClass101.com Verified
Wednesday at 04:39 AM
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Hello Mimi,

Thank you for your question.

"That couldn't be Sara" would be used in the present tense and if you are looking at someone you think might be Sara.

"That couldn't have been Sara" is in past tense and would be the same situation but an amount of time before saying this (in the past).

I hope this helps.



Team EnglishClass101.com

Sunday at 05:53 PM
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It's very useful lesson! but Some are confusing.

Here's a sentences.

That coudn't be Sara.

That couldn't have been Sara.

What will the meaning chage?