How to Use Would, Could, and Should: Modal Verbs

Would, Could, and Should are termed as auxiliary verbs or modal verbs and are part of our day life conversation. Like all other modal auxiliaries, would, could and should usually don’t change their form. Keep in your mind that would is used to talk about something that will happen in an imagined situation. We use could to talk about something that can happen, and we use should to talk about something that must happen or ought to happen.

Here you will learn the use of individual modal verbs would, could, and should and how their function differs from one another.

When to use would?

Would is past form of will and it is used as a modal verbs. It has various use according to the situation in a sentence. Below are the various use of would.

Would is generally used in situations that can be imaginary or when the possibility of something happening is low.

“Sarah would visit us this month.”

Here would is acting as an auxiliary verb expressing a scenario that might occur.

We use a modal verb would to make a polite request as in a sentence below.

“I would like to listen pop music.”

We use it also to make a question in a polite tone as in a sentence below.

“Would you like some mangoes?”

We use a modal verb would for a possibility of an occasion or event that may happen in the past. Look at sentence below to understand it well.

“Lucas would have missed the train if she had not waked up early that day.”

Sometime we use this modal verb to express a habitual past action. Look at example given below.

“John would play cricket whenever his father would leave home.”

Would is also commonly used to show a preference between two or more things.

“I am not much hungry so I would like tea rather than a meal.”

People use it commonly to express their wishes and desires as in a sentence below.

“We wish that it would work.”

Would is also used to show someone’s intentions or plans. Look at example below.

“He said he would play hockey.”

Sometime the modal auxiliary would shows a doubt in a sentence as in a sentence below.

“The cake would seem to be hot.”

When to use could?

Could is past form of can but it acts as an auxiliary verb in some cases. Could is used to express the possibility of an action or event (something that can happen). Look at example to understand it better. 

“Sarah could visit us this month.”

Here could is an auxiliary verb that expresses the probability of the situation happening. Here the possibility is “could visit”.  Its mean that Sarah might pay a visit or she was able to visit but she did not visit.

Could is also used to make a polite request or to ask for permission in a polite way. Just look at examples below.

“Could you please pass the book?”

“Could you tune the radio at 100?”

Here in above sentence could is showing a polite request to pass the book. We use it also to make a question. Look at sentence below.

“Could you have mopped the floor?”

“Could I leave now?”

In the above first example, there is a question in a polite was that also show possibility of doing that action also and in the second example there is a polite way for asking to leave.

When to use should?

Should is a past form of shall and acts as a modal verb/modal auxiliary. There are few uses of word should compared to the word would.

“Should” expresses normally a strong voice, describing something that must be happen. Look at the example below to understand it well.

“Sarah should visit us this month.”

The modal verb should is also used to ask a question but not with politeness like would. It means that asked action was either ought to be done or was ordered. Look at the example below.

“Should you have mopped the floor?”

We use should to express something that is probable as in a sentence below.

“Ali should be here by 11:00 AM.”

“She should be singing a song at concert.”