Habits Expressed by "Will" and "Would"

In this article, I'm going to describe how habits can be expressed by will and would. Habits in the present are normally expressed by the Present Simple. However, among other uses of the Future Simple, will + infinitive can be used instead when we wish to emphasize the characteristics of the performer rather than the action performed.

General statements

It is chiefly used in general statements. For example:

  • An Englishman will usually show you the way in the street. (It is normal for an Englishman to act in this way.)
  • She will always greet you.

Past routines

This is not a very important use of "will", but the past form, "would", has a much wider use and can replace "used to" when we are describing a past routine:

Take this sentence for an example:

  • On Sundays he used to (or would) get up early and go fishing. He used to/would spend the whole day by the river and in the evening used to/would come home with marvellous stories of the fish he had nearly caught.

Note, however, that when used to expresses a discontinued habit, it cannot be replaced by "would". Both "will" and "would" can be contracted when used as above.

obstinate insistence, usually habitual:

Use "will" to express obstinate insistence, usually habitual:

  • If you will keep your watch half an hour slow, it is hardly surprising that you are late for your appointments!

"Would" is used in the past:

  • We all tried to stop him smoking in bed but he would do it.

Will and would are not contracted here and are strongly stressed.

Would can express a characteristic action, usually one which annoys the speaker:

  • Bill objects/objected = He would object. (He always objects.)