The modal verb “would” has multiple uses. It can be used as the past-tense form of “will”, it can be used to express something speculative or imaginative, or something that has not happened (yet). “Would” can also be used to express a wish or a polite request or question.
“Would” as the past-tense of “will”
The verb “will” expresses future intent. “I will go” = It is my intention to go. “He will call” = He is intending to call.
When expressing future intent, but from a past perspective, the word “will” changes to “would”.
I said I would go. (My words were: “I will go”, in the past)
He told me he would call. (He said: “I will call”, in the past)
“Would” as a speculation
“would” can also be used to express something speculative or imaginative, or something that has not happened (yet).
I would be an excellent teacher! (I am not a teacher, but if I were, I would be excellent.)
You would look great with blond hair. (You do not have blond hair, but if you did, you would look great!)
We would be making a mistake if we sold the house now. (We are not selling the house, but if we did, we would make a mistake.”
When expressing a desire, wish or preference, we can use the word “want”. (I want a cookie. He wants to leave). However, it is more polite to use “would”.
I would like a cookie.
He would like to leave.
We would like to reserve a table for 8 o’clock.
This principle is also used when asking about someone’s wishes or preferences.
Would you like a cookie?
Would he like to leave?
Would you like to reserve a table for 8 o’clock?
“Would” as something that habitually happened in the past.
When we describe something that happened regularly or very often, we use “would”.
My father would always bring gifts from his business trips. (My father went on many trips, and always brought a gift)
I would stop there on my way home from work. (I stopped there many times after work)
She would call me every Friday. (She called every Friday for a period of time)
The conjunction “if” is used to introduce a conditional clause. When a sentence starts with “if”, it indicates that something happens only in a certain event or condition. However, when we use “if”, we cannot use “would” in the same same clause of a sentence. Instead, we use the present tense.
I would not do that, if I were you. (Not: I would not do that, if I would be you.)
If I had a million dollars, I would buy a house. (Not: If I would have a million dollars, I would buy a house.
If you woke up on time, you would not be late for work. (Not: If you would wake up on time, you would not be late for work.