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Serenity Carr, Assistant Editor
How to Use "Could," "Would," and "Should"
Monday December 19th 2016
Question
What is the difference between could, would, and should? — Learners Everywhere
Answer

Could, would, and should are all used to talk about possible events or situations, but each one tells us something different.

 

Could is used to say that an action or event is possible. Would is used to talk about a possible or imagined situation, and is often used when that possible situation is not going to happen. Should is used to say that something is the proper or best thing to do, or to say that someone ought to do something or must do something.

  • Adam could visit us on Monday. This tells us that it is possible Adam will visit on Monday, maybe he can visit us, but maybe he has other options, too. Visiting us is one possibility.
  • Adam would visit us on Monday. This tells us that we can imagine a situation in which Adam wants to visit us on Monday, but maybe it is not actually possible. Adam is willing to visit us, under the right conditions or if he can.
  • Adam should visit us on Monday. This tells us that Adam visiting on Monday is a good idea, or that it is something Adam is obligated to do.

 

With each of these words, more information is usually given in conversation to tell us about other possibilities or information about an event that makes it more or less likely to happen.

  • Adam could visit us on Monday, but he would rather hang out with his friends. (He is able to, but he chooses not to.)
  • Adam could visit us on Monday, if he is not working. (Adam is usually able to visit us but only if he is not working.)
  • If we want to go to that concert on Sunday Adam could visit us on Monday instead. (We can cancel our plans with Adam on Sunday and go to the concert because Adam can visit us on Monday instead of on Sunday.)

 

  • Adam would visit us on Monday if he had a car. (Adam wants to visit but he is not able to. We can imagine a situation where he has a car and he will visit.)
  • Adam would visit us on Monday, but his friends are in town. (Adam is willing to visit, but he won't because his friends are in town. We can imagine a situation where Adam does not have anyone else to visit, and so he visits us.)
  • If we were going to be home Adam would visit us on Monday. (Adam can't visit us because we will be out of town, but we can imagine a situation where we are home and Adam visits us.)
  • If we invite him, Adam would visit us on Monday. (If we choose to invite him over, we predict that Adam will accept our invitation and come over.)

 

  • Adam should visit us on Monday because we haven’t seen him in a long time. (It is best/a good idea for Adam to visit us if he can.)
  • Adam should visit us on Monday if he wants to see us before we leave town. (Adam ought to/has to/must visit us on Monday if he wants to see us because he will not be able to at a later date.)
  • If he wants to get his sunglasses back, Adam should visit us on Monday. (To get his sunglasses that he left at our house Adam has to/must visit us on Monday.)

 

Just remember that could is used to talk about something that can happen, would is used to talk about something that will happen in an imagined situation, and should is used to talk about something that ought to happen or must happen.

I hope this helps.

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