Fron English Grammar in Use 5th Edition (p.42)

We use won't to say that somebody refuses to do something.

  • I've tried to give her advice, but she won't listen.
  • The car won't start (=the car 'refuses' to start.)

In the prior example above, the subject tried to give advice in the past. However, the rest of the sentence confuses me. Does the second person make the action in the past or in the future? Why isn't it ''I've tried to give her advice but she wouldn't listen.'' ?

  • Note that won't is used not only to refuse something, but also to agree or accept, as in phrases such as: I won't say no and I won't deny Aug 5, 2022 at 22:39

1 Answer 1


The "will not listen" is present tense. It is a particular and idiomatic use of "will", and in this sense, it doesn't indicate the future. It is closer to the original meaning of "will" as "have a desire" or "act with intention" (still found in the noun "will" as in "he has a strong will")

So "She will not listen" is, literally, "She has a strong desire to not listen". This is purely present tense.

The first part is, of course past tense. And there is an optional choice of tense for the second. By saying "She won't listen" you mean "her refusal to listen is permanent and continues to the present". You could have used "wouldn't listen" to mean "At that time she refused to listen." See, for example The pictures I sent were horrible or the pictures I sent are horrible? Which one is correct and why? for another context in which both present and past tenses are possible.

  • So can I draw on the conclusion that if it would be 'would not' instead of 'will not' the meaning would be that 'she' didn't listen, refused to listen in a certain situation, in a certain context; however, with 'will not' instead of 'would not' the sentence mean she always refuse to listen, this is a part of her characteristic. And this usage of 'will not' is idiomatic.
    – user138449
    Aug 5, 2022 at 20:27
  • @orhantorun - you can't assume that 'she won't listen' means she habitually refuses to take advice; only that she refuses to take this advice. You might say 'she never listens' to imply habitual or characteristic disregard. Aug 5, 2022 at 20:44
  • Thanks Michael.
    – user138449
    Aug 5, 2022 at 21:43

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