"Could" vs. "Will" in the English grammar

Could vs. Will

'Will' and 'could' are modal verbs that give additional information about the main verb. In this lesson, we will learn their uses and differences.

"Could" vs. "Will" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between 'could' and 'will' is that 'could' is mainly used to talk about the past while 'will' is used to talk about the future.

'Could' is one of the most commonly known modal verbs. It is used to show past abilities, possibilities, requests, etc. To put it simply, 'could' is the past tense of modal verb 'can.' For instance:

Could you turn down the music?

Here, we are requesting something.

I could run long distances when I was younger.

Here, we are talking about past abilities.

'Will' is a modal verb that mainly talks about future events. It is used to talk about future plans, habits, assumptions, and predictions. For example:

It will rain tomorrow.

Here, we are predicting a future event.

I will be living in America next year.

Here, we are talking about a future plan.

Similarities

Making Offers

We use 'could' and 'will' to make offers. Offers are statements that indicate our willingness to do something for someone.
'Could' is more formal than 'will.' Both modals are not definite offers, meaning that we are uncertain if the listener would accept our offer or not.

Could I get you a cup of tea?

I will get you a cup of tea, if you like.

Making Requests

We also use 'will' and 'could' to ask for favors or ask someone to do something for us at the present time. Requests that are made with 'could' are more formal.

Will you lock the door on your way out?

Could you lock the door on your way out?

Negation and Question

We can use modal verbs to create negative sentences and questions.
When we want to make a sentence negative, we add 'not' to the modal verb as illustrated below:

  • CouldCould notCouldn't
  • WillWill notWon't

Take a look at the following examples for clarity:

I will join the club. → I won't join the club.

I could work with Excel. → I couldn't work with Excel.

Questions are created through the inversion of the modals. Watch:

I will graduate one day. → Will I graduate one day?

I could be a great doctor. → Could I be a great doctor?

With Other Modals

We use only one modal verb in a sentence. We cannot use modal verbs with other modal verbs. Take a look at these incorrect sentences:

I will can learn how to draw.

He should could lift that weight.

Differences

Prediction

'Will' is used to make predictions about the future. These predictions might become true or they may fail to happen. This future may be close or years away. For example:

The event will begin on Friday.

Flying cars will be invented in the future.

Past Abilities

We use 'could' to talk about past abilities, skills, and talents. These abilities and skills were used in the past and perhaps we stopped using them or we lost them. Sometimes the person who had the ability or talent may be deceased. Have a look:

I could listen to loud music nonstop when I was younger.

My aunt could jump really high.

Willingness

We use the modal verb 'will' to express that we are ready to do something. For instance:

I will help you with the cooking.

I will take the fall for you.

With Conditionals

As shown in the table below, 'could' and 'will' are used as conditional verbs. conditionals are used to show that the occurrence of an event depends on another event or action to happen.

Could Will
Conditional Type 1
Conditional Type 2
Conditional Type 3
Zero Conditional

Conditional Type 1

The first type of conditional is used to talk about real situations with a high chance of becoming real. 'Will' and 'could' are both used in this type. Have a look:

They could win the competition since they practiced hard.

They will win the competition since they practiced hard.

Conditional Type 2

Conditional type 2 talks about hypothetical situations in the present and future that are imaginary and perhaps will never come true and their chance of occurrence are low. We use 'could' in this type and we cannot use 'will.' For example:

If I were rich, I could buy that beach house.

If I were an Olympic athlete, I could get a gold medal.

Conditional Type 3

The third type of conditional talks about an imaginary past and what could be. This past could have happened but it never did and we are just imagining a different past. We use 'could' in this type. Consider the following examples:

If I were older, I could apply for the job.

I could have been in college if I wasn't a troublesome teenager.

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