English Grammar

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CHAPTER 8.  CONJUGATIONS WITH THE AUXILIARY WOULD

1. Uses of the auxiliary Would

English verbs conjugated with the auxiliary would are used in a variety of ways. For instance, the auxiliary would is often used in polite requests and suggestions. In the following examples, the verbs conjugated with would are underlined.
e.g. Would you please tell me the time?
      Perhaps it would be a good idea to call the office.

The auxiliary would can also express a future in the past, and is used in reporting statements and questions which pertained to the future at the time they were made.
e.g. She asked if we would help her the next day.
      They said they would arrange to meet us the following week.

The auxiliary would can also be used in wishes pertaining to the future, and in the main clauses of sentences containing false or improbable conditions. These two uses of the auxiliary would will be discussed in the next chapter.
e.g. I wish they would help us.
      It would have saved time if I had known what to do.

 

2. Formation of conjugations with the auxiliary Would

There are four types of conjugation formed with the auxiliary would: the Simple, the Continuous, the Perfect, and the Perfect Continuous.

The conjugations with would are formed in the same way as the Future conjugations, except that instead of will and shall, would and should are used. In the conjugations with would, should may be used for the first person in British English; however, would is normally used for the first person in American English.

Like will and shall, would is a modal auxiliary. When verbs are conjugated with modal auxiliaries, the results are sometimes referred to as moods rather than tenses.

a. The simple conjugation with the auxiliary Would
The Simple conjugation with the auxiliary would is used to express non-continuous actions.

In spoken English, the auxiliary would is frequently contracted to 'd. It should be noted that this contraction is the same as that used for had.

In the case of the verb to work, the Simple conjugation with the auxiliary would is as follows:

Without ContractionsWith Contractions
  I would work  I'd work
  you would work  you'd work
  he would work  he'd work
  she would work  she'd work
  it would work  it'd work
  we would work  we'd work
  they would work  they'd work

The contraction it'd is used less frequently than the other contractions, since it is more difficult to pronounce.

As illustrated below, the word order for questions and negative statements in the Simple conjugation with the auxiliary would is similar to that in other English conjugations. The negative tag questions are underlined.

In spoken English, would not is frequently contracted to wouldn't.

Simple conjugation with Would

Type of StatementExamples
  
Affirmative Statement:I would work.
 They would work.
  
Question:Would I work?
 Would they work?
  
Negative Statement:I would not work.
 They would not work.
  
Negative Question withoutWould I not work?
  Contractions:Would they not work?
  
Negative Question withWouldn't I work?
  Contractions:Wouldn't they work?
  
Negative Tag Question:I would work, wouldn't I?
 They would work, wouldn't they?


See Exercises 1 and 2.

The Simple conjugation with the auxiliary would is often used in polite requests and suggestions.
e.g. Would you please pass the butter?
      Perhaps it would be best to postpone the meeting.
In the first example, would pass is used in a polite request. In the second example, would be is used in a polite suggestion.

See Exercise 3.

b. The continuous conjugation with the auxiliary Would
The Continuous conjugation with the auxiliary would is used to express continuous, ongoing actions.

In the case of the verb to work, the Continuous conjugation with the auxiliary would is as follows:

  I would be working
  you would be working
  he would be working
  she would be working
  it would be working
  we would be working
  they would be working

As illustrated below, the word order for questions and negative statements in the Continuous conjugation with the auxiliary would is similar to that in other English conjugations. The negative tag questions are underlined.

Continuous conjugation with Would

Type of StatementExamples
  
Affirmative Statement:I would be working.
 They would be working.
  
Question:Would I be working?
 Would they be working?
  
Negative Statement:I would not be working.
 They would not be working.
  
Negative Question withoutWould I not be working?
  Contractions:Would they not be working?
  
Negative Question withWouldn't I be working?
  Contractions:Wouldn't they be working?
  
Negative Tag Question:I would be working, wouldn't I?
 They would be working, wouldn't they?


See Exercises 4 and 5.

c. The perfect conjugation with the auxiliary Would
In the case of the verb to work, the Perfect conjugation with the auxiliary would is as follows:

I would have worked
you would have worked
he would have worked
she would have worked
it would have worked
we would have worked
they would have worked

As illustrated below, the word order for questions and negative statements in the Perfect conjugation with the auxiliary would is similar to that in other English conjugations. The negative tag questions are underlined.

Perfect conjugation with Would

Type of StatementExamples
  
Affirmative Statement:I would have worked.
 They would have worked.
  
Question:Would I have worked?
 Would they have worked?
  
Negative Statement:I would not have worked.
 They would not have worked.
  
Negative Question withoutWould I not have worked?
  Contractions:Would they not have worked?
  
Negative Question withWouldn't I have worked?
  Contractions:Wouldn't they have worked?
  
Negative Tag Question:I would have worked, wouldn't I?
 They would have worked, wouldn't they?


See Exercises 6 and 7.

Unlike the Perfect conjugations in the English past, present, and future tenses, the Perfect conjugation with the auxiliary would is not generally used to express an action completed by a certain time.

Instead, the Perfect conjugation with the auxiliary would may be used as a past form of the Simple conjugation with the auxiliary would. The verbs in the following examples are underlined.

Present FormPast Form
I would like that.I would have liked that.
We would write to him.We would have written to him.

In the first example, the Perfect conjugation would have liked is used as the past form of the Simple conjugation would like. In the second example, the Perfect conjugation would have written is used as the past form of the Simple conjugation would write.

See Exercises 8 and 9.

d. The perfect continuous conjugation with the auxiliary Would
In the case of the verb to work, the Perfect Continuous conjugation with the auxiliary would is as follows:

I would have been working
you would have been working
he would have been working
she would have been working
it would have been working
we would have been working
they would have been working

As illustrated below, the word order for questions and negative statements in the Perfect Continuous conjugation with the auxiliary would is similar to that in other English conjugations. The negative tag questions are underlined.

Perfect continuous conjugation with Would

Type of StatementExamples
  
Affirmative Statement:I would have been working.
 They would have been working.
  
Question:Would I have been working?
 Would they have been working?
  
Negative Statement:I would not have been working.
 They would not have been working.
  
Negative Question withoutWould I not have been working?
  Contractions:Would they not have been working?
  
Negative Question withWouldn't I have been working?
  Contractions:Wouldn't they have been working?
  
Negative Tag Question:I would have been working, wouldn't I?
 They would have been working, wouldn't they?


See Exercises 10 and 11.

Like the Perfect conjugation with the auxiliary would, the Perfect Continuous conjugation with the auxiliary would is not generally used to express an action completed by a certain time.

Instead, the Perfect Continuous conjugation with the auxiliary would may be used as a past form of the Continuous conjugation with the auxiliary would. The verbs in the following examples are underlined.

Present FormPast Form
I would be waiting outside.I would have been waiting outside.
He would be helping you.He would have been helping you.

In the first example, the Perfect Continuous conjugation would have been waiting is used as the past form of the Continuous conjugation would be waiting. In the second example, the Perfect Continuous conjugation would have been helping is used as the past form of the Continuous conjugation would be helping.

See Exercise 12.

 

3. Summary of the formation of the conjugations with the auxiliary Would

The following table summarizes the formation of the conjugations with the auxiliary would.

ConjugationAuxiliaryVerb Form
  Simple  would  bare infinitive
  Continuous  would be  present participle
  Perfect  would have  past participle
  Perfect Continuous  would have been  present participle

 

4. The "future in the past"

The modal auxiliary would is the past form of the modal auxiliary will. For this reason, the auxiliary would can be used to form what is sometimes called a future in the past.

The future in the past is used in reporting statements and questions which pertained to the future at the time they were made. In the following examples, the verbs in the main clauses are printed in bold type, and the verbs in the subordinate clauses are underlined.

Tense of Verb in Main ClauseComplete Sentence
  Simple Present  I think you will succeed.
  Simple Past  I thought you would succeed.

In the sentence I think you will succeed, the verb of the main clause, think, is in the Simple Present, and the verb of the subordinate clause, will succeed, is in the Simple Future. If the verb think is changed to the Simple Past, then the verb will succeed must also be put into the past, by using the auxiliary would instead of will.

The following are other examples of the use of the future in the past:

Tense of Verb in Main ClauseComplete Sentence
  Simple Present  She says she will visit us next week.
  Simple Past  She said she would visit us the following week.
   
  Simple Present  They know that we will be arriving tomorrow.
  Simple Past  They knew that we would be arriving the next day.

In both pairs of examples, when the verb in the main clause is changed from the Simple Present to the Simple Past, the verb in the subordinate clause is changed from a future tense to the future in the past, by changing the auxiliary will to would.

It should be noted that adverb and adverb phrases such as tomorrow, yesterday and next year can be used only with reference to present time. When used with reference to past or future time, as in reported speech, these adverbs and adverb phrases must be changed.

For instance, tomorrow must be changed to an expression such as the next day or the following day; and next year must be changed to an expression such as the next year or the following year. Other examples are given in the table below.

Used with Reference to Present TimeUsed with Reference to Past or Future Time
  tomorrow  the next day or the following day
  today  that day or the same day
  yesterday  the day before or the previous day
  
  next week  the next week or the following week
  this week  that week or the same week
  last week  the week before or the previous week
  
  next year  the next year or the following year
  this year  that year or the same year
  last year  the year before or the previous year


See Exercise 13.

 

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