I'm learning modal verbs, would!

I'll try for understanding how can 'would' be used for polite requests by approaching with a methodology.

The methodology is that we think 'would' is the past version of 'will' and 'would' is used for expressing an unlikely or imaginary situation.

so, I made some examples.

  1. Would you mind telling me the time (if it were possible?)<--skipped. In the above sentence, 'if it were vs if it is: which is correct?'

  2. Would you get me a sandwich (if it is possible?)

  3. What would you do (if you read people's thought's)<-- it's context.

How about you?

Is this approach correct?

  • Note that neither if you were possible nor if you are possible is idiomatic in any but some contrived or uncommon contexts. (Such as describing the reality of a virtual character.) In normal contexts, it would be considered an incorrect use of the words. You most likely want to be comparing if it were possible and if it is possible. Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 4:47

2 Answers 2


"Would" is the past tense of "will" but that is not how it is being used here.

Old English had a much more complex system of verb changes than modern English, and had a subjunctive form "wille/wolde", the subjunctive has been lost from English, but many of the meanings of "would" come from the Old English subjunctive "wolde"

Now, there is another subjunctive form "if it were" again, it looks like a past tense, but it isn't really talking about the past. Consider:

If I were a rich man, I would buy a house in London.

There is nothing in this sentence talking about past events. It is just various subjunctive forms that are not really productive in English anymore, but appear in some special constructions.

In your examples you could use "were" or "is". I'd probably use "is" most often

In the third example you'd need to say /red/ for "read" for the past tense meaning (because you are asking about the consequenses after having read peoples thoughts", so the reading happened in the past) But it would also be correct to say "...if you are reading..." or "if you could read" (which is also not a past tense)


"Would" is a very versatile verb which can be used to speak about past habits or to talk about things in the past that happened often or always, for hypothetical situations, wishes, can be used to refer to the future time from the point of view of the past, talks about intentions and possibilities, can be used in polite requests or offers, or to refer to what is very likely.

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