How to use would, could and should

You SHOULD pay attention to these rules.

A challenge for many English language learners are the modal verbs. The modal verbs are:

  • will
  • would
  • shall
  • should
  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must

All modal verbs are auxiliary verbs, which means they can only be used WITH a main verb.  Modal verbs cannot, however, BE a main verb.  This means they go with other verbs and help add to the meaning of a message.  In this article, we’ll be focusing on would, should, and could.

When would we use modal verbs? When could we use modal verbs?  When should we use modal verbs?  Let’s get started.

Would

Would is used to show preference, to communicate a wish, or to give advice.

Preference I would prefer a queen room please.

Would you prefer a queen room?

Wish I would like to go swimming today.

Would you like to go swimming?

Advice If I were you, I’d have the red wine with your steak.

Would you have the red wine or the white wine with the steak?

Could

Use could for possibilities in the future, or to make polite requests.

Possibility A: Do you have any ideas for us to do today?
B: You could go down to the beach or take a walk in the forest. If you like to golf, I could make you a tee time.
Request Could you please show me your identification?

Could I get you another drink?

Should

Should is often used to give an opinion, to make a suggestion, or to express a preference or an idea.  Be careful with “should”!  Often you can come across as demanding or too forceful when giving advice.  When recommending something to a guest, it’s often better to use other less strong modal verbs, such as may, could or might.

Opinion You should drink water on a hot day.
Suggestion You should be at the airport at least two hours before boarding when flying international.

You should take the train downtown.   There’s so much traffic!

Preference/ idea You should have the red wine with your steak.

I hope that helps clear up when to use would, should and could… and remember…

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By James

I'm the creator of the 3A Hospitality English Program and Co-Founder of 3Aenglish.com. I lived and taught in China for a few years and am currently back in BC, Canada. Thanks for joining us here, I hope we can learn some cool new things together!