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I found these two sentences on an online English tutorial, and I'm confused about why one sentence uses "does" and the other uses "would":

  1. How much does it cost to fly to Europe?
  2. How much would it cost to go to the movies?

My question is, what's the difference or similarity between these two sentences.

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You would get the same answer to each question whether you used would or does; both questions ask for the price of the action mentioned. There is a slight difference in the implication of why you're asking, but the information you want is the same.

When you ask How much does it cost to [x], you're simply asking for information. You could be asking out of pure curiosity, or because you want to purchase the item in question, but no implication is made either way.

When you ask How much would it cost to [x], there is a stronger implication that you're wanting to buy the item you're discussing. Instead of a straight pricing inquiry, you're saying "If I were to buy [x], how much would it cost me?" Using would introduces a future conditional, thus the implication that you're considering the purchase (based on the answer to the question about price).

  • I must just flag up 'And you, Jimmie, how old would you be?' from Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Fairly obviously Jimmie is whatever age he is, just as the price of OP's flight to Europe doesn't vary according to whether the customer buys it or not. The "conditional" is often incorporated into questions as a "politeness indicator" (or more likely in Jimmie's case, to convey a somewhat condescending attitude). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 3 '13 at 20:45
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, that's a very good point and I agree entirely with your comment. Would you not agree, though, that when the question refers to cost that the would tends to imply a possibly intention to buy? Admittedly the question was actually more general than that, though the examples did refer to cost (which is where my train of thought got started). What do you think? – WendiKidd Jun 3 '13 at 21:18
  • @ WendiKidd: Yes - I agree your answer, and upvoted accordingly. The point I'm (not very clearly) trying to make is that grammatically speaking, the "conditional" applies to the cost. Which could in principle carry an implication that something might make that cost vary (perhaps there's a price increase due to take effect tomorrow). Ask yourself what difference would be implied if your final sentence there had been "What would you say to that?", as opposed to "What do you say to that?". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 3 '13 at 22:00

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