Could, Would, Might

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Oct 12, 2010 11:49
A friend of mine asked me about the difference between the usages of [Could, would, might]. I had written a document for my friend but I want to share it with all of those learning English as well. It isn't too advanced, but you may find something you had not known about before!

NOTE: EX/ = example sentence.

I think it easier to understand the past, present and future tenses of [would, could and might]. This way, instead of trying to memorize sentences and phrases, you get a more natural understanding of how they work.

[Would] is already the past tense form of [will]; it can also be used in the present and future tenses as well.
Often, when we use [would] in the past tense, we tend to use it as an excuse for why we did not do something.

EX/ Present tense: I will plan to visit you next summer.
Past tense: I would have liked to visit you, but I had take summer classes.

There is also future tense. Usually this isn’t about yourself, but you ask someone to do something for you.
So sentences that ask, “Will you…” are future tense right? It is because you are asking someone to do something for you. However, you can replace [will] with [would] and it will still have the same meaning.

EX/ “Will you teach me Cantonese?” “Would you teach me Cantonese?”

These have the same meaning right? So when asking for a favor, you can switch them. I think [would] is a bit more polite. You can even add “please” at the end of those sentences, and [would] would still sound more polite. Usually I will use [will] with my close friends and family, whereas everyone else I would use [would].

[Could] is the past tense form of [can]. It is much like [would], but has a slightly different usage.

So we will start with past tense usages first.
EX/ I could have gone to Hong Kong, but…
The present tense of this is simply: I can go to Hong Kong.
Nothing difficult there.

[Could] is used most often to ask permission.
EX/ “Could I borrow your umbrella?”

It is also be used to ask someone else to do something.
“Could you check my Cantonese homework please?”
This is much like the usage for [would]. There is not much difference. I think [Could] is even more polite than [would] at certain times. [Would] almost seems like your request will be fulfilled.
EX/ Would you pick up that pencil please?
Could you please drive your father to the hospital tomorrow?

Do not think that [Could] is used to ask for big favors only. If you switched [would] and [Could] in those sentences, they wouldn’t really be very different.

[Could] is also used in future tenses for suggestion:
EX/ We could have Korean food for dinner.

It is also used to suggest that something might happen:
EX/ I could take a taxi to try and meet you earlier at the restaurant.

[Might] like the others is the past tense of [may]. So it has a lot of the same uses.

Past tense usages:
EX/ I might have made the flight on time if I wasn’t stuck in traffic for an hour.

[Might] can also be used to suggest something:
EX/ You might want to try getting a later flight next time.

It can also be used to show that permission was granted/not granted.
EX/ She asked me if I might visit her, but I am still unsure.

Another common way we use [Might] is like this:
EX/ Can you make it to class on Sunday?
I might not be able to because I have to finish my homework.

This is really unrelated to all of this but we have a phrase that we say if someone regrets too many things too often.
“I should have gone to the movies with everyone else if I had known that it was free.”
“Could have, would have, should have.”

They are often said rather fast, so it sounds like “Coulda, woulda, shoulda.” Haha. Feel free to ask any questions that you have.
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