3

I have lots of doubts about could and would. How can I differentiate these words and explain with examples any body?

  1. could you please?
  2. would you please?

explain briefly

1 Answer 1

11

In general, "could" or "can" indicates ability and "would" or "will" indicates intent.

"Bob could carry that heavy box for you." Bob was physically capable of doing it.

"Bob would carry that heavy box for you." Bob was willing to do it and/or intended to do it.

However, when asking someone for help, we often use "could" or "can" to indicate willingness. "Can you help me carry this heavy box?" The question might be asking if the person is physically capable, but more likely we know or assume they are capable and are asking if they are willing. I think this is basically just politeness: If the person doesn't want to do it, it invites a response of "no I am not capable" rather than forcing them to say "no I am not willing to help you".

4
  • Keep in mind that it isn't just limited to capability. They may not have time, expertise, or simply may not feel comfortable doing the work. But the result is the same, Can and Could is a lesser request than Will and Would, which essentially aren't asking if you are available, but whether you are willing to set aside anything else in the way and help out. It's requesting a commitment that is more than a simple request. This is why the phrase is "Will you marry me?" rather than "Can you marry me?"
    – Adam Davis
    Jul 13, 2016 at 13:53
  • Sometimes when someone asks "Can you ___?" I say "Yes, I can do that. ... Would you like me to do that?" as a subtle/funny way of discouraging them from using "can/could" to mean "will/would", and instead speak clearly and plainly. But most people consider such pickiness about language unnecessary pedantry, so I'm afraid my quest is quixotic. Jul 13, 2016 at 15:52
  • @AdamDavis Not sure what you mean. If someone doesn't have the time or expertise, then he "can't". If you interpreted my "heavy box" examples to mean that "can" only refers to physical strength, okay, sorry if I was unclear, it's broader than that. "Can you translate this email from French to English?" "Sorry, no, I can't. I don't speak French." "Can you hit a target 50 yards away with a bow and arrow?" "Can you perform brain surgery?" Etc.
    – Jay
    Jul 14, 2016 at 12:48
  • 1
    @MontyHarder Yes, I had a teacher in elementary school who would do that. Even a bunch of children, who normally delight in obnoxious retorts, quickly found it tiresome. :-)
    – Jay
    Jul 14, 2016 at 12:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .