Would, Should, and Could: How to Use Them Correctly

Helping verbs, also known as auxiliary verbs, are used to extend the main verb’s meaning in a sentence. These action words help in expressing the main verb’s tense and mood. However, if incorrectly used, it might undermine the purpose of having it in the sentence. Therefore, it is essential to know how helping verbs should be used appropriately in a text. Three of the most commonly used helping verbs are ‘would,’ ‘should,’ and ‘could.’ They sound almost the same and have the same tense, but those three modal auxiliaries don’t mean the same thing. In this article, we shall tackle how to use the said verbs.

Would, Should, and Could: Understanding the Basics

When to Use Would, Should, and Could

Key Takeaways

  • “Would” is used for hypotheticals and future possibilities that may not occur.
  • “Should” implies advice, expectation, or probability.
  • “Could” expresses past ability or present possibility.

Would: Definitions and Usages

First of all, ‘would’ is a modal auxiliary verb and is the past tense form of ‘will.’ Like ‘will,’ you can use ‘would’ to express requests, willingness, offers, and conditionals. However, you only have to use ‘would’ instead of ‘will’ if you’re expressing situations about the past. It can also be employed in relaying a hypothetical situation. Additionally, the use of ‘would’ creates a politer tone. The negative form of ‘would’ is ‘would not,’ which can be shortened by using ‘wouldn’t.’

In making a polite request:

  1. I would like more of this drink, please.
  2. Would you please hand me those papers?
  3. Would you mind answering this survey?

In giving an offer/ask a question:

  1. Would you like some tea?
  2. Who would say something like that?
  3. Would you prefer walking instead?

In expressing willingness:

  1. She said she would help us with the project.
  2. I would love to go to your party.
  3. My mom would wake up early in the morning to cook breakfast for us.

In stating conditionals:

  1. If I were you, I wouldn’t say that.
  2. I would have taken that opportunity if I had the chance.
  3. If you were in my shoes, you’d have the same reaction.

Should: Definitions and Usages

The verb ‘should,’ as the past tense of ‘shall,’ is generally used to give advice, talk about an expectation, or obligate someone. In its obligatory sense, it can be used as an alternative for ‘must.’ The negative form of ‘should’ is ‘should not’ or ‘shouldn’t.’ To further explain how ‘should’ is used, feel free to go over the examples below.

In giving advice:

  1. You should try to think outside the box.
  2. We should let the adults decide.
  3. Jenny should already get a new pair of eyeglasses.

In expressing an expectation:

  1. The teacher should be here soon.
  2. Let’s invite Jake. His class should be done by now.
  3. The band has so many fans. Their concert tickets should be sold out instantly.

In relaying an obligation:

  1. You should finish that by tomorrow.
  2. Motorcycle drivers should always wear their helmets.
  3. Citizens should follow the law.

Could: Definitions and Usages

‘Could’ is employed to express a possibility or past ability, make a request, or suggest an idea. It can also be used as the conditional form of ‘can.’ It cannot be used to point out an obligation nor convey willingness. It just mainly signifies the possibility of the idea being expressed. The negative form of ‘could’ is ‘could not’ or ‘couldn’t.’

In conveying a possibility/past ability:

  1. Nothing could go wrong if we just follow the instructions.
  2. Anna could be the one sending those letters to Tim.
  3. When I was younger, I could run around the oval without getting easily tired.

In making a request:

  1. Could you please turn the TV on?
  2. Could I borrow a pencil?
  3. I was wondering if I could ask you to have lunch with me.

In making a suggestion:

  1. You could add some vanilla to give your coffee a distinct aroma.
  2. She could’ve just told me about it.
  3. You could go to the library and see if the book is available.

These helping verbs are then followed by the main verb to complete the meaning. It can also be succeeded by another auxiliary verb that could also change the tense of the whole action word. Use the discussed verbs correctly and according to the purpose you want to convey. Never forget that ‘would,’ ‘should,’ and ‘could’ are past tense forms of the verbs ‘will,’ ‘shall,’ and ‘can,’ respectively. The choice between which tense to use should also be considered.

Examples in Sentences

Examples of “Would” in Sentences

  • would go to the beach if the weather were nicer.
  • She said she would call me when she arrived.
  • He would often visit his grandparents on the weekend.
  • We would like to order dessert after our meal.
  • They would have finished the project, but they ran out of time.

Examples of “Should” in Sentences

  • You should wear a coat; it’s cold outside.
  • She should arrive by 10 AM if the train is on time.
  • He should apologize for what he said earlier.
  • We should save some money for emergencies.
  • They should read the instructions before assembling the furniture.

Examples of “Could” in Sentences

  • could go to the movie if I finish my work early.
  • She could see the ocean from her hotel room.
  • He could have gone to the concert, but he decided to stay home.
  • We could meet for coffee next week.
  • They could not believe how much the city had changed.

Practice and Application

Multiple Choice

  1. (A) Would (B) Should (C) Could you help me move this heavy table?
  2. I (A) would (B) should (C) could have gone to the concert, but I decided to stay home.
  3. You (A) would (B) should (C) could see a doctor if you’re feeling unwell.
  4. (A) Would (B) Should (C) Could you have done anything differently to change the outcome?
  5. If I had the money, I (A) would (B) should (C) could travel around the world.
  6. (A) Would (B) Should (C) Could you be so kind as to close the window?
  7. He (A) would (B) should (C) could win the race if he trains hard enough.
  8. (A) Would (B) Should (C) Could I borrow your pen for a moment?
  9. You (A) would (B) should (C) could take an umbrella in case it rains.
  10. I (A) would (B) should (C) could have arrived earlier, but there was traffic.


  1. C) Could
  2. A) could
  3. B) Should
  4. C) Could
  5. A) would
  6. C) Could
  7. C) could
  8. C) Could
  9. B) Should
  10. A) could

Frequently Asked Questions

What are modal auxiliary verbs?
Modal auxiliary verbs are special verbs that add more meaning to the main verb in a sentence. They include words like couldwould, and should.

When do we use ‘could’?
Could is used:

  • To ask for something politely: “Could you pass the salt, please?”
  • To suggest a possibility: “You could take the bus if the train is late.”
  • To imply a past ability: “When I was young, I could run very fast.”

How is ‘would’ applied?
Would is often utilized:

  • To make polite requests or offers: “Would you like some coffee?”
  • To describe a future event from a past perspective: “We knew it would rain today.”
  • In conditional sentences: “I would travel more if I had the money.”

In what situations should ‘should’ be used?
Should apply when:

  • Giving advice: “You should check your answers before submitting the test.”
  • Talking about expectations: “They should arrive by now.”
  • Expressing an obligation: “You should wear a seatbelt when driving.”

Remember, while these auxiliary verbs enhance our sentences, each carries its nuances and rules of application. Here are examples to show the correct usage:

  • CouldWe could go to the park tomorrow if the weather is nice.
  • WouldWe would love to join you for dinner next Friday.
  • ShouldWe should always recycle to help the environment.