Difference Between Could and Would


Main Difference

Although both ‘Could’ and ‘Would’ are Auxiliary Verbs in English Grammar and serve to modify the mood of a verb, they often confuse the learners to where and how to use them. To cope with such issue and to get an explicit idea about these Model Verbs, the underlying illustration would be of good help. First of all, we would take ‘Could’ into a discussion. Could is basically a ‘second form of can’ and is used to indicate a capability in the past e.g. ‘I could run faster in my childhood’ or ‘I could catch the thief when I saw him at first’. Hence, it replaces ‘Can’ for the past sentence; however, not only as past, it can be used in place of ‘can’ in the Present Tense to give the phrase a conditional tone such as ‘She could not allow her son to go out in the dark’. Thirdly, ‘Could’ also works to make a request more polite. For example, ‘could you let me know what your intentions are’? On the other hand, ‘Would’ is also a Model Verb and has a differential job. Firstly, it is used to indicate future in the past e.g. ‘She would try to work hard following the example of her brother’. Secondly, ‘Would’ works as the conditional mood of ‘will’ in the conditional sentences such as ‘I would get you a car if you followed my advice’. In a subjunctive case would is utilized to indicate an unreal condition e.g. ‘I would work more efficiently if I were you’. Thirdly, ‘Would’ is used for polite requests but with a questioning tone unlike ‘could’ e.g. ‘Would you like to let me know what had happened’? Moreover, ‘would’ is also used for Future Tense when there is a probability but not complete certainty e.g. ‘He would help you’ [there is a possibility that the third person will help.

Comparison Chart

‘Could’ is the past form of ‘Can’ to indicate capability in the pastConsidered as the past form of ‘Will’ to indicate the future in the past
SuggestionConditional sentences
Extra Uses
Polite requestsPolite questions
Can be adapted to indicate an unreal thingCannot be used for unreal things

Definition of Would

Would is a Model Auxiliary Verb works to modify the mood of the main verb in the sentence. It is usually used in conditional sentences as it depends on some conditions. Would also be used for sentences in which something is being said about the future but in the context of the past. This model verb can also be employed to raise polite questions as well.

Definition of Could

Could is a Model Auxiliary Verb and normally used in place of ‘Can’ for Past Tenses to highlight past capability. Apart from showing capability in the past, ‘Could’ is also used frequently to make polite requests. It is used for possibility e.g. ‘they could have done this job more effectively’.


Key Differences

  1. Would is considered as the past form of ‘Will’ to indicate future in the past; ‘Could’ is the past form of ‘Can’ to indicate capability in the past.
  2. Could is used to suggest; Would is used in conditional sentences.
  3. ‘Could’ can be used for polite requests; Would can be employed to raise a polite question.
  4. Could is used for possibility, while Would is used for less probability.
  5. Would can be adopted to indicate unreal thing; Could is not used for unreal things.
Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson