Can we use "would" and "could" in the present tense when we refer to a possible but not certain event taking place in the future? I'm talking about instances that aren't conditional sentences.

I don't think they would ever want me to play in their band.


I'm sure he would kick your ass!


We could go to their concert and show the youth how we partied back in the days!


It could take us a long time to get back home because of this blizzard, so we will miss that show anyway.

I understand it as a way to talk about less probable, hypothetical future events, yet many websites seem to not mention that part in their articles on differences between will and would, and can and could, so I'm not sure if my interpretation is correct.


1 Answer 1


These examples are valid and are mostly combinations of present tense with future conditionals where the condition itself is unstated.

In the first example, the present tense part is "I don't (ever) think". The future conditional part is effectively "they would ... want me to play in their band", and the condition, (maybe, "if I were to ask") is unstated.

The second example is similar, "I'm sure" combined with "He would kick your ass", where the condition could be something like, "if he knew what you were up to right now."

The third is basically just a conditional, "We could go..." again with the condition unstated.

The fourth is similar. What could cause us to take a long time getting back home?

  • And the same applies to these examples taken from Humans of New York site, right? "I want to be a porn star but I think it would embarrass my mom too much." and "How would his mom know unless she is watching porn?". It's all about conditionals with unstated conditions? Also, do my examples sound like something you, as a native, would say, or is there something wrong with them idiomatically?
    – Bebop B.
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 18:48
  • 2
    Yes, the same applies to the first example, but, "How would his mom know unless she is watching porn?" has a conditional. It's more obvious if it's worded, "How would his mom know if she is not watching porn?" And there's nothing wrong with these idiomatically, the condition is often dropped, sometimes even when it should not be.
    – jaybrau
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 19:00
  • Okay, but how about another example, this time taken from an answer to one of my previous questions. After inquiring whether I got my tenses right and asking if it'd be possible to use only present tense verbs instead, a user wrote: "Yes, you could almost exclusively use the present narrative style, giving immediacy to the actions in a plan". Is there just another, even more subtle, future conditional with a condition dropped, or is the case different here?
    – Bebop B.
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 19:47

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