6

Consider the following sentence

It will/would rain tomorrow.

I understand "would" usually means something that is really improbable.

So "it would happen" means it might happen but it is very unlikely; while "it will happen" means it is going to happen

But what if I want to say

It will not happen?

Because the meaning of "it will not happen" represents something that is unlikely or, worse still, not going to happen, shouldn't it be more accurate to say "it would not happen"?

However, to contravene the aforesaid suggestion - if I am confident that the thing is not going to happen, should I use "will" to indicate the definite nature of my statement?

To further complicate the issue, what if I want to say

I think you will not be able to do it.

or

I think you would not be able to do it.

Which one is more accurate/correct, given that "I think" already conveys a sense of "less than definite" and "will/would not be able to" conveys the same sense as "unlikely"?

4

Your understanding of the word "would" is wrong. When talking about future events the difference between "will" is referring to something that is going to happen in the real world, but "would" is talking about what would happen in a hypothetical situation. So for example, I could say

I would go skiing with you if I had the money.

and that means that if I had more money (an imaginary situation) then I would go with you. Let's take another sentence.

I would go skiing with you if I could get a day off of work.

This means that I have given up trying to get a day off, and I don't think it's possible. In a hypothetical where I do get off work, I would go with you, but in the real world I will not. However, if I say

I will go skiing with you if I can get a day off of work.

that means that I don't know if I can get a day off or not. I'm still trying to convince my boss to let me have a day off, and I don't know if he will let me or not. If he does, I will go with you, but if he doesn't, I will not.

But what if I want to say "It will not happen?" Because the meaning of "it will not happen" is that something is that is unlikely or, worse still, not going to happen, shouldn't it be more accurate to say "it would not happen"?

If I say "It will not happen", it does not mean it is unlikely. It means "In the future, this event is going to not happen." "It would not happen" is only accurate if you're talking about a hypothetical.

Now onto your last sentence:

"I think you will not be able to do it" or "I think you would not be able to do it".

It all depends on the context.

Let's say that I want to run a marathon. I sign up, and start training. The big day comes and I'm really excited. You want to discourage me so you say:

I think you will not be able to finish the race.

New scenario: Let's pretend that I've always wanted to run a marathon, but I am afraid of failing. I want to try, but I want to know that I can finish the race before I make an attempt. I come up to you and ask, "Do you think that I could run a marathon?" You want to discourage me so you say:

I think you would not be able to finish the race.

  • Thank you for your answer which is really helpful. So if I say "I think you will not be able to finish the race." It means "there is no possibility that you could win" What if I want to say "it is unlikely that you will win the race"? However should I say it? Still can't I use would? – Alan Apr 12 '15 at 4:15
  • Such as "It will/would be unlikely that ...?" it sounds strange than since this sentence seems to be no more than a mere guess and using "will" give a really strong sense of "sureness" – Alan Apr 12 '15 at 4:25
  • No, you would not use "would". Adding "I think" to the phrase makes it mean "unlikely". If you want to say "there is no possibility", remove the "I think" and just say "You will not be able to finish the race." – DJMcMayhem Apr 12 '15 at 4:25
  • 1
    I am newbie and clearing up my doubts regarding could and would,and I donot want to leave any stone unturned.Could you tell me that why you have used 'could' in line "Do you think that I could run a marathon?" in last portion of your answer.Why have you not used 'can'?.Another problem is in your last comment . Problem is that why you have used 'would' in line "No,you would not use 'could' ".I think that instead,there should be 'should' or 'cannot'. – ashish7249 Dec 25 '17 at 16:59

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