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I have asked many questions about "would" both in ELL and ELU. But I still have a question about the use of "would". I have recently asked a question which @Jay also answered.

He used "wouldn't" in the following sentences:

  1. Here, you wouldn't say, "May I ask you what is your name?" Though we break this rule for questions sometimes
  2. Well, someone might say that in informal speech, but you wouldn't write it or use it in formal speech.
  3. "May I ask you what's your name?" is awkward; a fluent speaker wouldn't say that.

Why "wouldn't" has been used there and in which sense or meaning? Does it mean "refused to do (something)"?

Am I quite right here in thinking that:

'Would' is a little milder than 'will' and it's also used to show the intention of the person rather than the actual action.'Will' refers to something which will actually happen. It shows strong certainty of occurring or actual intention of the speaker.

On the other hand, "would" also refers to something which may happen in the future but it shows less of its certainty or lack of confidence of the speaker. "Would" can be used instead of "will" if the speaker is less certain of the fact he's talking about?

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Wouldn't in this case has a similar meaning to shouldn't.

When we say that a person wouldn't do something, the meaning is that the person has a reason for not doing it.

Broadly there are two examples:

He hates apples. If you gave him an apple, he wouldn't eat it.

This one, we are talking about a specific person who doesn't like apples.

The other usage, instead of he, we use you. You in this case means any person in general.

You wouldn't say "May I ask you what is your name".

This means that people in general would not say it, because they have a reason. We don't specify the reason, because it is implied, but the reason is that it is incorrect. Basically:

You wouldn't say "May I ask you what is your name" because it is incorrect.

So basically, you wouldn't means a general person wouldn't. It doesn't mean refuse, it just means that the person would not normally do this.

By saying "You wouldn't say it", you are saying "A general person wouldn't say it" and thus the implied meaning is that "You shouldn't say it [because a general person wouldn't say it, because it is incorrect]".

To answer your other question:

He hates apples. If you gave him an apple, he wouldn't eat it.

He hates apples. If you give him an apple, he won't eat it.

These sentences have the same meaning, just the tense is different.


You wouldn't say "May I ask you what is your name".

You won't say "May I ask you what is your name".

In this case, the second sentence is not correct. We use wouldn't has a special word for saying what a person is likely to do.

You won't does not make sense in this case because we are using the other definition of you, to mean 'people in general'. So for example:

This sentence is correct because 'you' means 1 person:

I made a cake, but you won't like it.

This sentence is incorrect because 'you' means 'people in general':

You won't say "May I ask your name"

With will/won't, we are saying we know for sure (or 90% certainty) what the person will do.

So to summarise, wouldn't and won't mean the same thing when talking about one person or one group of people, but when using 'you' to mean 'people in general', we can't use you won't because it is confused with the other meaning of 'you' and does not make sense when talking about people in general.

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  • How the meaning of the sentences differs if we use 'won't' instead of using 'wouldn't "? Would there be any changes in the meanings of these sentencess ? Please reply – yubraj Aug 21 '16 at 6:14
  • ,I'm waiting for your reply – yubraj Aug 21 '16 at 12:55
  • I have updated my answer. – NibblyPig Aug 22 '16 at 7:17
  • ,What I've understood from your answer is: we use 'wouldn't' with 'you' (people in general), and 'won't' with you(one specific person),and with he/she/it/they – yubraj Aug 22 '16 at 8:30
  • ,I've also understood that we use 'wouln't' if the sentence is followed by if clause. Will for(definite) one person won't do sth and would is for (definite) people in general woun't do sth. – yubraj Aug 22 '16 at 8:49
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I upvoted @SLC, but apparently the original poster is still confused, so let me say it a different way and see if this helps.

"Should" is used to say what a person ought to do, what is the correct thing to do or the wise thing or the morally right thing. Like, "You should be nice to your neighbor."

"Will" is used to say what a person actually does. This may or may not be a good thing to do. "You will receive your paycheck next Friday."

"Would" is usually used to say what a person will do under hypothetical or conditional circumstances. "Sally would go to the prom if Bob asked her." "Would" can also be used to say what a person intends to do. "Bob would never go to Boston." This means, I know Bob, and I know that he doesn't like Boston, so he would never go there. The meaning here is little different from, "Bob will never go to Boston." "Would" is a little milder. It indicates intent rather than actual action. If you told me, "Hey, I met Bob in Boston last week," I might reply, "That's funny. Bob would never go to Boston." The implication is that he would not go voluntarily, but maybe he was forced to go by his job or his wife or some such.

That last meaning is the intended meaning in the example from your question. "A fluent English speaker would never say ..." The idea is that this is something that a fluent English speaker does not intend to do. It's a little milder than saying "will never", but the meaning is pretty much the same.

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  • Short answer: Yes. – Jay Aug 19 '16 at 21:04
  • ,ok ,I couldn't find this type of meaning in dictonery. could you please give me a link of a dictonery which describes this kind of usage of "would" ? – yubraj Aug 19 '16 at 22:11
  • thefreedictionary.com/would, the first block labeled "aux v." – Jay Aug 21 '16 at 4:55
  • How the meaning of the sentences differs if we use 'won't' instead of using 'wouldn't "? Would there be any changes in the meanings of these sentencess ? Please reply – yubraj Aug 21 '16 at 6:17
  • ,I'm waiting for your kind reply? – yubraj Aug 21 '16 at 12:53
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To understand this use of would in the negative, it is useful to consider the origin of the English verb will.

Will, like the Latin velle, is descended from the Indo-European root *wel-, which carries the sense of desiring or wanting. Would evolved from the preterite form of the Old English wyllan. "Weak" English verbs form the past (or preterite) by adding the -ed sound, as in past tense forms such as loved and closed. Adding this dental sound (in this case, /d/) to the end of wyllan created the past form wolde, and over time this changed to would.

In the negative construction you cite, this sense of the verb would as conveying want is strong. You could, in fact, substitute forms of the verb want in each case without changing the sense of the sentences:

  1. Here, you do not want (to) say, "May I ask you what is your name?" Though we break this rule for questions sometimes
  2. Well, someone might say that in informal speech, but you do not want (to) write it or use it in formal speech.
  3. "May I ask you what's your name?" is awkward; a fluent speaker does not want (to) say that.
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  • P.E dent, do you mean "would' refers to willingness or wanting ? And what about the openion of mine right in the question? – yubraj Aug 20 '16 at 2:08
  • @yubrajsharma Yes: not only does would discuss the future, but here it also carries the sense of desirability or "wantingness." I'm not sure which opinion you mean. Can you be specific? – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Aug 20 '16 at 2:11
  • It's(my opinion) in my question about both' will' and 'would' – yubraj Aug 20 '16 at 2:16

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