Difference Between Could and Would

By: | Updated: Jul-19, 2021

You will often hear people saying that they could have done something. They could have done it, but they didn’t do it. Another expression that is used frequently is: “I would love to do that, but I can’t”.

The difference between these two phrases is actually not very obvious and many people make a mistake by using them interchangeably. The difference between the two phrases could be derived from the meanings of these words in their respective contexts. We will discuss the differences between Could and Would in this article.

Summary Table

Could Would
Are used to express the possibility of something Are not used to express the possibility of something
Can express the possibility of something Cannot express the possibility of something
Are used to talk about our own actions Are not used to talk about our own actions

Definitions:

Difference Between Could and Would

In this article, we will explore the differences between Could and Would. You will learn how these two words are used in different contexts, the difference between them, and some examples of each.

What is Could?

Could is a modal auxiliary verb that helps to express necessity, possibility, obligation or permission. It can refer to something that is expected or possible. For example: “You could go.” We can also use could to talk about an action performed in the past or present. For example: “I could have gone out but I didn’t.” You could also use it to talk about something temporary such as “I could be there in a few minutes”. It must be followed by a verb. For example: “I could have done it but I didn’t.” Could is also used to show the possibility of something happening in the future. For example: “If I had gone there, I would have seen her.”

What is Would?

Would is a modal auxiliary verb that helps to express necessity, possibility, obligation or permission. If we want to refer to something that is expected or possible, we can use could as well but would is preferred because it can communicate a stronger sense of obligation or permission. For example, “I would rather not say” This is also used to talk about an action performed in the past or present, as well as something temporary. For example: “I would have gone out if I had known.” It must be followed by a verb. For example: “If I had gone there, I would have seen her.”

When it comes to the usage of the two words, could and would, there are some differences between them. As it is clear from the name itself, could means to be able to do something while would mean to be willing to do something. Both of these words can also be used interchangeably with one another when they refer to a feeling or attitude.

Uses of Could

While using could, we are referring to our ability or capability which is relevant at the moment. For example, if someone is not able to do something at the moment, they could do it but will not because of his/her inability.

When we use could, we are expressing our willingness to do something. For example, if someone wants to buy a book from a particular store but is unable to as the day is too short for buying it, he/she will say “I could buy the book if I had enough time” or “I would like to buy the book if I had enough time”.

Uses of Would

When someone uses would, it is basically referring to the mood or feeling of would like something. For example, if you say “I would go to a party if I had enough time”, you are expressing your willingness to go to a party.

What are the similarities?

There are some similarities between could and would. We can use could to refer to a state or condition, but we can also use it to make a suggestion.

For example: I could go for a walk with you, but I would not like that because it is very hot. Or: I could go for a walk with you, but I won’t like it if it is too hot today. It is also used in negative sentences when it is used to emphasize the fact that you can’t do something without stating that you won’t. For example: You could not go for a walk because it is raining heavily.

Would can also be used in positive sentences to express the idea of opinion or suggestion. For example: You would have to tell him off if he doesn’t finish his work this month, but I think he will finish by the end of the month. You would have to tell him exactly why he is late.

What are the differences?

Could is more conversational than would. It helps us to express an idea that we are expecting or possible. Would is not used to talk about something that’s expected or possible but rather something that’s already happened or is going to happen. For example: “I have seen her”. We can also use it to talk about our own actions such as “It would be better if I went there”

Could expresses the possibility of something, while would is used to express the necessity or obligation of doing something. It can also be used to say more strongly that an action has already happened or will happen. For example: “I could have gone out, but I didn’t.” This is not possible in the case of could because it is used to express the possibility of something. For example: “I could have gone out, but I didn’t.”

Could is used to refer to something that’s expected or possible, while would is used to express the possibility of something. It can also be used to talk about our own actions such as “It would be better if I went there.”

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