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May 8, 2008

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Will and would : willingness, likelihood and certainty 

We use will (or 'll) when we talk about WILLINGNESS to do something (e.g. in offers, invitations, requests, and orders) and will not (or won't) when we talk about UNWiLLINGNESS to do something (e.g. reluctance, refusal) :

  • I'll give you another oppurtinity to get the correct answer.
  • Mom, Sue won't give me back my pencil case

Notice that we can also talk about the refusal of a thing to work in the way it should :

  • The top won't come off; The key won't fit the lock

To talk about general or repeated willingness in the past we can sometimes use would, but we can't use would in this way to talk about a particular occasion in the past. Compare :

  • Whenever I had to go to town, Ron would give me a lift. (=repeated)
  • I was late, so Ron gave me a lift to town. (not Ron would give me...)  (=particular occasion)

However we can use would not either when we talk about unwillingness in general or about a particular occasion. Compare :

  • We thought that people wouldn't / would buy the book. (=general)
  • Shw wouldn't say what was wrong when I asked. (not ...would say...) (=particular occasion)


We use will (or won't) to indicate that we think a present or future situation is CERTAIN :

  • You will know that John and Sheilla are engaged. (=you already know)
  • 'Shall I ask  Laoyao ?''No, don't disturb him - he will be working
  • We won't see them again before Christmas

When we want to indicate that we think a past situation (seen from either a present or future viewpoint) is certain, we use will (or won't) have + past participle :

  1. The past seen from a present viewpoint 
  • They will have reached home by now (...they reached home... >> a past situation)

     2. The past seen from a future viewpoint

  • Next Thursday, I will have owned my present car for exactly 20 years (next Thursday >> ...owned for 20 years...)
  • When the trees are all cut down, something of great value will have been lost.  (when trees all cut down>> ...something...lost...)

When we want to indicate that we think an unreal past  situation - that is, an imaginary situation or a situation that might have happened in the past, but didn't - is certain we use would have + past participle :

  • I would have been happy to see him, but I din't have time
  • If your father had still been alive, he would have felt very proud of you today
  • My grandmother wouldn't have approved of the exhibition



We use the future perfect to say that something will be ended, completed, or achieved by a particular point in the future :

  • Let's hope the volcanic eruption will have finished before we arrive on the island.
  • Although people are now angry about what he did, I'm sure that his behaviour will soon have been forgotten. (=passive form)
  • By the time you get home I will have cleaned the house from top to bottom

Notice that we can use other modal verbs instead of will to talk about the future in a less certain way :

  • By the time you get home I will/may/should have cleaned the house... 



We can use the future perfect continous to emphasise how long something has been going on by a particular point in the future :

  • On Saturday, we will have been living in this house for a year
  • Next year I will have been working in the company for 30 years

In sentences with the future perfect continuous we usually mention both the particular point in the future ('On Saturday...','Next year...') and the period of time until this point ('...for a year', '...for 20 years').

Notice that we don't usually use the future perfect continuous with verbs describing states :

  • Next month I will have known Laoyao for 20 years. ( not ... will have been knowing...)