Sometimes I come across sentences like this:

He finished his book and would receive its critics.

However, could I say like:

[...] and recevied its criticism

Another example is:

Her mother wouldn't let her go to the party.

Could I say:

Her mother did not let[...].

What would be the difference between "Would + Verb" and "Verb" in these contexts?

And there are some times I cannot distinguish the difference between "Could" and "Would"

You know that I could/would help you, but I'm too busy these days.

May you please help me?

1 Answer 1


In this contexts, would functions as the past tense of will.

To take the second example first,

Her mother didn't let her go to the party.

is stating a fact that happens to be in the past, but from no particular temporal focus.

Her mother wouldn't let her go to the party.

is setting the temporal focus back at that time, at the time when "her mother won't let her go to the party".

There is no objective difference between these two, and not much practical difference; but it sets the narrative back at that time, and suggests that there was a continuing process - maybe she asked several times.

The first example is similar, except that I find the would strange here, unless you are reading a biography, or a history of his works. Again, the would sets the temporal focus back to the time when he published, so that the criticism is in the future.

Your third example is quite different. Often both modals are possible, and objectively synonymous. But they exhibit different degrees of tentativeness, and hence of politeness.

Would you help me.

is literally "Are you willing to help me" (though it is rare that anybody would actually say that). It can vary from a polite request to a peremptory command, depending on the tone of voice (though it still has the surface appearance of politeness even in the latter case).

Could you help me.

is literally "Are you able to help me", but tends to be interpreted as "Is it possible you will help me" - more tentative and less likely to be peremptory.

  • Thank you very much for the answer. I'd like to know if I get the 2 first differences right, if you don't mind. "Would" in those sentences are clearly telling which action came first, but in speech, there's no much of a difference between Past Simple and Would. Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 15:30
  • 1
    In the first case, yes, it is showing that finishing the book came first, because receivng the criticism was in the future; but that's not the point of it. The simple past doesn't make this explicit, but it is implied, both by the order in the sentence and by real-world knowledge. But the point of it is to tell the story from the point of view of the author (of the book), moving with him in time and looking forward to what would happen (=_will_ in the future). By the way, "receive its critics" reads very oddly: the "critics" are the people who criticise: how does he "receive" them?
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 16:35
  • What I meant was that he received criticism of the book. I now see my mistake. Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 0:29

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