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Difference between SHOULD, COULD, and WOULD

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The difference between should, could, and would is difficult for many English learners – this lesson will help you understand when to use each one!

Use SHOULD and SHOULDN’T for advice

Here are some examples of using should and shouldn’t to ask for and give advice and suggestions:

“I’ve had a really bad headache for the past week.”
“That’s not good – you should go to the doctor.”

“I want to make more friends, but I don’t know how.”
“First of all, you shouldn’t spend so much time on the computer. You should go out and join a club or start playing a sport instead!”

“I had a fight with my best friend. What should I do?”
“Hmm… I think you should call her and tell her you’re sorry.”

Use COULD and COULDN’T for ability in the past

Could and couldn’t are the past forms of can and can’t:

When I was younger, I could run a mile in 7 minutes. Now it takes me 20 minutes!

Yesterday, I couldn’t find my wallet anywhere – but this morning I found it.

Last year, he couldn’t speak English very well, but now he can.

Use COULD for possibilities in the future

Here’s an example of could to talk about future possibilities:

“Do you have any ideas for our publicity campaign?”

“Yes, I’ve got a few ideas. I could put advertisements on Facebook and Google. We could also give out pamphlets in our neighborhood. Maybe John could even contact local TV stations.”

Use COULD to make polite requests

  • Could you please open the window? It’s hot in here.
  • Could you turn the music down? Thanks.
  • Could you make 10 copies of this report, please?

Use WOULD to talk about unreal or unlikely situations

  • If I were the president of my company, I would make a lot of changes.
  • If people were more generous, there wouldn’t be so much poverty in the world today.
  • She would travel around the world if she had more vacation time.

Note: In this case, would is often shortened to ‘d

  • If I were the president of my company, I’d make a lot of changes.

Use WOULD YOU LIKE to make polite offers

Here are some examples of using would you like…? to make polite offers:

Would you like anything to drink?”
“A soda would be great. Thanks!”

Would you like to join us for dinner?”
“I’d love to, but I actually have other plans tonight.”

Would you like to see some pictures from my vacation?”
“Sure!”

Don’t use “to” after should, could, and would:

You shouldn’t to smoke.
You shouldn’t smoke.

We could to order pizza tonight.
We could order pizza tonight.

I would to buy a new car if I had the money.
I would buy a new car if I had the money.


Quiz - Difference between Should, Could, and Would

Choose the correct option to complete each sentence. Good luck!
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