The words could and would are modal auxiliary verbs, wherein both are the past tense form of the verbs can and will respectively. They both have many uses, which makes them confusing for many beginning writers and English language learners. ‘Could’ is used to say that an action or event is possible. ‘Would’ is used to talk about a possible or imagined situation, and is often used when that possible situation is not going to happen. We make use of the word ‘could‘ to express ability or past possibility, whereas ‘would‘ can be used to show willingness or when we imagine a situation. “Would” and “could” are used for representing the past tense as well as in the present tense to express a request.
‘Could’ is used when the situation is possible in the past. On the other hand, would is used when the situation is unreal or unlikely to happen. In the case of polite expressions, i.e. while making offers, requests, invitation, suggestion, or permission, we often get confused, which one to use.
Difference between Could and Would –
- ‘Could’ is mainly used to discuss possible actions or happenings, in the present or in the future.
- Could is the past tense form of the verb ‘can’ which indicates a past ability of someone or possibility of an action or happening.
- ‘Could’ is used to express past possibility, i.e. something that is possible in the past situation. It can also be used in giving suggestions to someone or making polite requests.
- When it comes to polite expressions like requests, permission, we can use both could and would.
- Examples: I could have gone to the parlor. She could walk 50 miles a day when she was young.
- ‘Would’ is used in sentences when we talk about a situation that we only imagine or of things that happen frequently in the past.
- Would is the past of ‘will’ which indicates the intent or willingness of a person, in the future, but from the past situation. It is also used when we are talking about an imaginary situation.
- The word ‘would’ is used to talk about a future time, from the past viewpoint. It refers to something, which is just an imagination, i.e. a situation which is not real or unlikely to happen. It also indicates the willingness or inclination towards something.
- When we are making a suggestion, we explicitly make use of the word could, and if we are making an offer or invitation we use would.
- Examples: I would like to go to America. Would you mind if I take your novel?