The car wouldn't start this morning, so I was late for work.

The word in bold was actually missing in the original task. The four answers were: couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't and hadn't. I chose "couldn't" (now I know it is wrong). But, honestly, all four answers looked very strange for me, I did not like any of them.

My questions are:

  1. why do we need wouldn't here, which tense or which rule is it?

  2. if I say "The car didn't start this morning, so I was late for work", will it be a big mistake?

2 Answers 2


The words are called modal verbs:

The modal verbs of English are a small class of auxiliary verbs used mostly to express modality (properties such as possibility, obligation, etc.).

The principal English modal verbs are can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will and would. Certain other verbs are sometimes, but not always, classed as modals; these include ought, had better, and (in certain uses) dare and need. Verbs which share only some of the characteristics of the principal modals are sometimes called "semimodals".Modal verbs

Would not and did not means the same in your example.

Here are examples with the list of words you gave and explanations as to why we would or would not choose them.

  • The car couldn't start this morning, so I was late for work.

The car can normally start by itself, but this morning it couldn't. We are not quite there yet.

  • The car shouldn't start this morning, so I was late for work.

I disable the car so it cannot not drive off without me, but I forgot this morning and it left without me. We are also not there yet

  • The car wouldn't start this morning, so I was late for work.

This is the correct word. The would is used to give some kind of human behaviour to your car. It is as if the car chose to not start just to spite you, but it is what we normally use when we do not use didn't.

We cannot use hadn't start - it should be hadn't started to work in this context.


When we say

The car will not start.

we are stating that we expect attempts to start the car to fail, that the car is broken. The car does not start and we expect it not to start.

The listener typically infers that we have already attempted to start the car, perhaps several times, because most people do not simply predict that the car will fail to start without having tried to start the car. It is a reasonable inference that at least one attempt has been made, and possibly several

If we are describing such a situation which happened in the past, we use the past tense of will which is would. We tried to start the car and the car did not start.

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