If you know football really well, then you could/can/would/will probably explain it to a non-fan.


  • 1
    I think this is actually a good question. – Damkerng T. Dec 18 '15 at 1:42
  • This is a good and canonical-like question. I'd like to see it remain open. – M.A.R. Dec 18 '15 at 8:18

(Native American English speaker)

I like Omni's answer, I am only adding onto it.

I want to offer an example where "could" and "can" can't be interchanged.

I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.

This is an idiom. I am very hungry, to the point where if I wanted to I could eat an entire horse. However "I'm so hungry I can eat a horse" sounds wrong and "I can eat a horse" would mean something entirely different. If you are so hungry that you could eat a horse, you aren't meaning this literally. If you say you can eat a horse, you mean that you literally are capable of eating a horse. Could's emphasis is on intent where can's emphasis is on ability. "I could eat a horse" means that you're hungry. "I can eat a horse" means that you have an extremely large stomach.

Here's an example where would and will can't be interchanged.

If I were you, I would go to the doctor.

I can't possibly be you and go to the doctor. In this hypothetical situation where I am you, I would go. But I can't possibly be you, so "will" doesn't make sense. Will means that I am going to, there is no hypothetical situations.

"If my condition gets worse, I will go to the doctor" is okay because it is a definite, expected thing to do.

Here's an example where would and could can't be interchanged.

If I won a million dollars I could buy a Ferrari.

That doesn't mean I necessarily am going to buy a Ferrari, it's just an option. If I said "If I won a million dollars I would buy a Ferrari", I mean that I necessarily am going to buy a Ferrari. I will buy a Ferrari.

| improve this answer | |

As per your question:

  • could: have the potential, if so inclined
  • can: have the potential, without regard to your inclinations
  • would: have the potential, and (the speaker believes) are likely to do so
  • will: at some point in the future this shall occur
| improve this answer | |
  • might want to say "almost certainly" instead of "shall", because I don't think learners will pick up the nuance of "shall". And "shall" is pretty much identical to "will" anyways. – Senjougahara Hitagi Dec 18 '15 at 6:09
  • @SenjougaharaHitagi Thank you. You are talking the difference between "have the potential" and "at some point in the future this shall occur", right? – WXJ96163 Mar 20 at 6:46

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