Alternative formsEdit


(This etymology is missing or incomplete. Please add to it, or discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium.)




  1. (heading) As a past-tense form of will.
    1. (obsolete) Wished, desired (something). [9th-19thc.]
    2. (archaic) Wanted to ( + bare infinitive). [from 9thc.]
      • 1490, William Caxton, Prologue to Eneydos:
        And thenne at laste a-nother sayd that he wolde have eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she understod hym wel.
      • 1852, James Murdock, trans. Johann Lorenz Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, II.7.iii:
        The Greeks, especially those who would be thought adepts in mystic theology, ran after fantastic allegories [].
    3. Used to; was or were habitually accustomed to ( + bare infinitive); indicating an action in the past that happened repeatedly or commonly. [from 9thc.]
      • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 4, in The Celebrity:
        No matter how early I came down, I would find him on the veranda, smoking cigarettes, or otherwise his man would be there with a message to say that his master would shortly join me if I would kindly wait.
      • 2009, "Soundtrack of my life", The Guardian, 15 March:
        When we were kids we would sit by the radio with a tape recorder on a Sunday, listening out for the chart songs we wanted to have.
    4. Used with bare infinitive to form the "anterior future", indicating a futurity relative to a past time. [from 9thc.]
      • 1867, Anthony Trollope, Last Chronicle of Barset, Ch.28:
        That her Lily should have been won and not worn, had been, and would be, a trouble to her for ever.
      • 1913, Mrs. [Marie] Belloc Lowndes, chapter I, in The Lodger, London: Methuen, OCLC 7780546; republished in Novels of Mystery: The Lodger; The Story of Ivy; What Really Happened, New York, N.Y.: Longmans, Green and Co., [], [1933], OCLC 2666860, page 0056:
        Thanks to that penny he had just spent so recklessly [on a newspaper] he would pass a happy hour, taken, for once, out of his anxious, despondent, miserable self. It irritated him shrewdly to know that these moments of respite from carking care would not be shared with his poor wife, with careworn, troubled Ellen.
      • 2011 November 5, Phil Dawkes, “QPR 2-3 Man City”, in BBC Sport:
        Toure would have the decisive say though, rising high to power a header past Kenny from Aleksandar Kolarov's cross.
    5. (archaic) Used with ellipsis of the infinitive verb, or postponement to a relative clause, in various senses. [from 9thc.]
      • 1724, Daniel Defoe, Roxana, Penguin p.107:
        He sat as one astonish'd, a good-while, looking at me, without speaking a Word, till I came quite up to him, kneel'd on one Knee to him, and almost whether he would or no, kiss'd his Hand [].
      • 1846, "A New Sentimental Journey", Blackwoods Magazine, vol.LX, no.372:
        If I could fly, I would away to those realms of light and warmth – far, far away in the southern clime [].
      • 1887, H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure[1]:
        `I thank thee, oh Ayesha,' I replied, with as much dignity as I could command, `but if there be such a place as thou dost describe, and if in this strange place there may be found a fiery virtue that can hold off Death when he comes to pluck us by the hand, yet would I none of it.
    6. Was determined to; loosely, could naturally have been expected to (given the tendencies of someone's character etc.). [from 18thc.]
      • 1835, Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, V:
        Then he took to breeding silk-worms, which he would bring in two or three times a day, in little paper boxes, to show the old lady [].
      • 2009, "Is the era of free news over?", The Observer, 10 May:
        The free access model, the media magnate said last week, was "malfunctioning". Well he would, wouldn't he?
  2. (heading) As a modal verb, the subjunctive of will.
    1. Used to give a conditional or potential "softening" to the present; might, might wish. [from 9thc.]
      • 2008, Mark Cocker, "Country Diary", The Guardian, 3 November:
        It's a piece of old folklore for which I would love to find hard proof.
    2. Used as the auxiliary of the simple conditional modality (with a bare infinitive); indicating an action or state that is conditional on another. [from 9thc.]
      • 2010, The Guardian, 26 February:
        Warnock admitted it would be the ideal scenario if he received a Carling Cup winners' medal as well as an England call-up [].
    3. (chiefly archaic) Might wish ( + verb in past subjunctive); often used in the first person (with or without that) in the sense of "if only". [from 13thc.]
      • 1859, John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress,
        I presently wished, would that I had been in their clothes! would that I had been born Peter! would that I had been born John!
      • 1868, Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe, Ch.23:
        I would she had retained her original haughtiness of disposition, or that I had a larger share of Front-de-Bœuf's thrice-tempered hardness of heart!
      • 1912, Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, translated by F. C. Conybeare (Loeb Classical Library), 8.16:
        But as the youth increased their annoyance by declaring that the goddess was quite right, because the Emperor was Archon Eponym of the city of Athens, he said: "Would that he also presided the Panathenaic festival."
    4. Used to impart a sense of hesitancy or uncertainty to the present; might be inclined to. Now sometimes colloquially with ironic effect. [from 15thc.]
      • 2009, Nick Snow, The Rocket's Trail, p.112:
        “Those trials are being run by the American army so surely you must have access to the documents?” “Well, yeah, you’d think.”
      • 2010, Terry Pratchett, "My case for a euthanasia tribunal", The Guardian, 2 February:
        Departing on schedule with the help of a friendly doctor was quite usual. Does that still apply? It would seem so.
    5. Used interrogatively to express a polite request; are (you) willing to …? [from 15thc.]
      Would you pass the salt, please?
    6. (chiefly archaic, transitive or control verb) Might desire; wish (something). [from 15thc.]

Usage notesEdit

  • As an auxiliary verb, would is followed by the bare infinitive (without to):
    John said he would have fish for dinner.
  • Would is frequently contracted to 'd, especially after a pronoun (as in I'd, you'd, and so on).
  • The term would-be retains the senses of both desire and potentiality (those of wannabe and might-be, respectively).
  • Indicating a wish, would takes a clause in the past subjunctive (irrealis) mood; this clause may or may not be introduced with that. Most commonly in modern usage, it is followed by the adverb rather, as in I would rather that he go now. A call to a deity or other higher power is sometimes interposed after would and before the subjunctive clause, as in Would to God that [] ; see the citations page for examples.
  • When used, mainly archaically, in the sense of "if only", the first-person subject pronoun is often omitted.



Note: many languages express some meanings of would using a mood or tense rather than by a particular word.

Related termsEdit


would (plural woulds)

  1. Something that would happen, or would be the case, under different circumstances; a potentiality.
    • 1996, Fred Shoemaker, Extraordinary Golf: The Art of the Possible, page 88:
      When the golf ball is there, the whole self-interference package — the hopes, worries, and fears; the thoughts on how-to and how-not-to; the woulds, the coulds, and the shoulds — is there too.
    • 2010, Shushona Novos, The Personal Universal: A Guidebook for Spiritual Evolution, page 395:
      Shushona you must learn to rightfully prioritize all the woulds, shoulds and coulds of your life.

See alsoEdit