Will, would: expressing willingness

Will and won’t are used most often in English to talk about the future. However, they also have other functions, one of which is to express willingness and unwillingness.

Likewise, would and wouldn’t are not only used for conditional sentences, but can also be used to express willingness when speaking about the past.

Expressing willingness, unwillingness:
will, won't, would, wouldn't
In the present: will, won’t

We can use will to say that someone is willing to do something:

Tom's a really kind person; he will always help you if you need something.
We can use will not / won't to express an unwillingness to do something:

David doesn't want to talk to me – he won't answer the phone.
My car won't start – I'll have to take the bus.
In the past: would, wouldn’t

When speaking about the past, we can use would to express that someone was generally willing to do things:

Tom was a really kind person; he'd (he would) always help anyone in any situation.
We don't use would to speak about single occasions in the past:

He agreed to help me.
He would help me.

However, we can use would not / wouldn't to express an unwillingness to do something (both generally and on single occasions):

My dad always helped with the cooking, but he wouldn't wash the dishes.
I was late for work today because my car wouldn't start.

willing definition speakspeak

1 Comment

  1. Pooriya - July 11, 2017, 11:25 pm Reply

    According to Macmillan Dictionary, “would” can also be used to show willingness in the present. Is it informal to use would for willingness in the present?
    thank you

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