Would vs. Should

'Would' and 'should' are quite confusing to learners due to their close meaning in formal British English. In this lesson, we will learn more.

"Would" vs. "Should" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between the modal verb 'would' and 'should' is that 'would' talks about willingness while 'should' talks about obligations.

'Would' is a modal verb that talks about prediction, willingness, habits, offers, and requests. It is the past tense of modal verb 'will.' For instance:

I would like to meet his parents.

You would have more opportunities.

'Should' is a modal verb used to talk about assumptions, and give advice. It is the past tense of modal verb 'shall.' For example:

I should have been more careful.

You should rewrite this essay.

Similarities

Talking about Possibilities

We can use 'would' and 'should' to talk about possibilities. However, there is a small distinction that requires your attention.

  • 'Would' expresses situations that you can imagine happening.
  • 'Should' expresses a likely action or event in the present or the future.

I would hate to miss the graduation ceremony.

She should be on her way.

Requests and Offers

We use 'would' and 'should' to make offers and requests.

Making Offers

We use 'would' with 'like' as the main verb to politely offer things:

Would you like some tea?

We also use 'should' in formal contexts (mainly British English) to politely offer others to do something:

I should be delighted if you could visit us.

Making Requests

'Would' can be used in indirect questions to politely request something:

Would you come over?

In formal contexts (especially British English), 'should' can be used to politely ask for something:

I should like a cup of coffee.

Interchangeability

'Should' in formal British English can replace 'would' when the subject of the sentence is pronouns 'I' or 'we.'

I would like warm milk before bed. = I should like warm milk before bed.

We would like to leave now. = We should like to leave now.

Past Tense

'Would' and 'should' are both past tenses of 'will' and 'shall' respectively. Watch:

You will tell me about your trip. → You would tell me about your trip.

We shall leave soon. → You should leave soon.

Negation and Question

Modal verbs 'would' and 'should' can be used to make negative sentences. To do so, we add 'not' to them as illustrated below:

  • WouldWould notWouldn't
  • ShouldShould notShouldn't

Here are some examples:

I would like to kiss you. → I wouldn't like to kiss you.

You should eat more. → You shouldn't eat more.

To create interrogative forms, we invert the modal verb. Check out the following examples for clarity:

She would help them out. → Would she help them out?

He should let them know about this issue. → Should he let them know about this issue?

Differences

Talking about Obligations

We can use 'should' to express obligations. Obligations are moral and legal actions that one must undertake. Take a look at these examples:

You should study better.

All passengers should remain in their seats.

Talking about Willingness

When we want to show that we want to do something, we can use 'would.' For example:

I would remind you when the time comes.

I would volunteer to come sooner than usual.

With Conditionals

Would Should
Conditionals Type 1
Conditionals Type 2
Conditionals Type 3
Zero Conditionals

Conditional Type 2

In this type of conditionals, we talk about hypothetical situations in the present and the future. We can use both 'would' and 'should' to refer to these situations. Have a look:

If I ever establish a company, I would let my employees take long hours off.

If I ever establish a company, I should let my employees take long hours off.

Conditional Type 3

In this type of conditional, we are talking about an imaginary past that could have happened but never did. In other words, we are talking about what-ifs and lost causes. 'Would' is used in this type of conditionals but we cannot use 'should.' For instance:

I would have been in Paris if I was rich.

She would have been here if she was free.

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