Difference Between Could and Would

Main Difference – Could vs Would

Could and would are two modal verbs that often confuse English learners. Although both words can sometimes have similar meanings, these two verbs have specific functions. Could is the past tense of can and would is the past tense of will. Could indicates an ability whereas would indicates a possibility. This is the main difference between could and would.

Could – Meaning and Usage

Could is the past tense of can. Could can be used to express a possibility, ability, requests and permission. The use of could makes a sentence more polite and formal. You can notice these features by looking at the examples below.

We could have helped you.

You could have told us the truth.

The old lady couldn’t hear anything before the operation.

When we were young, we could run so fast.

Could I ask some questions?

Could you please close the door?

Could I get you something to drink?

When could is used to indicate a possibility, could implies a weaker possibility (than can). Unlike can, could is only used to ask for permission; it cannot be used to grant permission. Most importantly, could is more formal than can.Difference Between Could and Would

Would – Meaning and Usage

Would is the past tense of will. Would can be used when talking about future in the past as well as in reported speech. It is also used in the formation of conditional clauses. Here, would indicates an imaginary or an impossible situation. Since would is the past form of will, it is also used to describe what people wanted to do or were willing to do.

He promised her that he would meet her next day.

She would let me eat in the dining hall when nobody was at home.

If you had helped me, I would have been successful.

If I were you, I would kill him.

If we had money, we would go abroad.

Would can also be used to express a wish, preference, offer, or request more politely since it is considered to be more polite and formal than will.

Would you like to have a cup of coffee – Offer

I would like to speak to you alone.– Request

I would rather kill myself than surrender. – Preference

I would like to travel the world one day. – WishMain Difference - Could vs Would

Difference Between Could and Would

Sometimes many English learners are confused when would and could are used interchangeably in requests. For example,

Could you please close the door?

Would you please close the door?

Although both sentences are not incorrect, would indicates a willingness, possibility, and probability whereas could indicates ability.

Past Form

Could is the past tense of can.

Would is the past tense of will.


Could expresses ability and permission.

Would expresses preference, probability, request, offer, and wishes.

Ability vs Probability 

Could expresses an ability.

Would expresses a possibility or probability.Difference Between Could and Would- infogrpahic

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Image 2″ by  (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

“Image 1” – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration  (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.