Can, could, would, should, shall, will - English grammar | Part- 1

Use of Can, Could, Will, Shall, Would, should Part-1

(1)    Use of ‘Will’

Will is used :

1. To indicate simple futurity or simple future plan when the subject is Pronoun of the second or third person:
For Example : My friend will come tomorrow.

You will go to school at 7 a.m.

2. To indicate prediction:
For Example : It will rain tomorrow.

3. To express future intentions that are decided at the time of speaking (offer, promise,decision,determination,threat,willingness) when the subject is Pronoun of the First Person:
For Example : Since you are very tired, I will do the dishes. (Offer)

I will lend you some money. (Promise)

I will wear my orange shirt. (Decision)

I will complete the task by 6 p.m. (Determination)

I will teach you a lesson. (Threat)

I will do the washing-up. (Willingness)

4. To express a request, invitation or order in yes/no question with ‘you’ as subject:
For Example : Will you please accompany me home? (Request)

Will you shut up? (Order)

Will you have a cup of tea? (Invitation)
Will you stop picking your nails! (Command)
(2)    Use of ‘Shall’

1. To express futurity or simple future plan when the subject is Pronoun of the First Person.
For Example : I shall meet you tomorrow.

We shall go for a picnic next week.

2. To make offer/suggestion ( in yes/no question with I/we as subject):

For Example : Shall we play cards? (Suggestion)

Shall I open the door? (Offer)

What shall I do next? (Suggestion)

3. To express command, compulsion, legal obligation, prohibition, threat, promise when the Subject is the Second or Third Person Pronoun:
For Example : He shall do the job. (Command)

The students shall attend the class. (Compulsion)

The people shall submit their Income Tax Return

before the end of March. (Legal obligation)

You shall not smoke here. (Prohibition)

If you make a noise, you shall be punished. (Threat)

He shall be rewarded for his act of bravery. (Promise)

Important Notes:

(i) In Interrogative Sentences, will is never used with the First Person (I/We)
(ii) Will/shall are not used in clauses beginning with ‘if’ or ‘when’.

For Example : If I will go to Delhi, I will visit the Red Fort. (Incorrect)

If I go to Delhi, I will visit the Red Fort. (Correct)

When he will return, I will serve him dinner. (Incorrect)

When he returns, I will serve him dinner. (Correct)

Will I make a cup of tea for you? (Incorrect)

Shall I make a cup tea for you? (Correct)

Exercise 1 Solved

Fill in the blanks with ‘will’ or ‘shall’

1. I _______ surely help you (Determination)

2. If you make a noise, you _______ be punished.

3. _______ you have tea?

4. He _______ play the match tomorrow.

(Information about future action)

5. You _______ not leave this place. (Order)

6. _______ I bring some tea for you? (Offer)

7. I _______ take care of your brother. (Promise)

8. I _______ send him to jail. (Threat)

9. How _______ you solve this problem?

10. I _______ take care of your brother. (Promise)

Answers : 1. will 2. shall 3. Will 4. shall 5. shall 6. Shall 7. will 8. will 9. will 10. Will

Learn this rhyme :
In the First Person, simply shall foretells;

In will, a threat or else a promise dwells.

Shall in the Second and the Third does threat;

Will simply then foretells a future fate.

‘I will’, ‘you shall’, ‘he shall’, the speaker’s will express.

‘I shall’, ‘you will’, ‘he will’, the coming future guess.

(3)    Use of ‘Would’

1. As past tense of ‘will’ in indirect speech:

For Example : She told me that he would go.

He said that you would tell a lie.

2. To express a wish/preference/desire:

For Example : Would that I were a king! (Wish)

Would that he were here! (Wish)

would like to ask you something. (Desire)

would rather die than beg. (Preference)

3. To express a habitual activity in the past: (meaning: ‘used to’)

For Example : She would sit for hours, saying prayers.

He would take a long walk after meals every day.

4. To express a request:

For Example : Would you say something on the subject?

Would you please close the door?

Note: [‘would you’ is more polite than ‘will you’]

5. In Conditional Sentences:

For Example : If I were you, I would forgive him.

Had you invited me, I would have attended the party.

(4) Use of ‘Should’

1. To denote Past Tense of ‘shall’ in indirect speech:

For Example : He said to me, “You shall complete the work by tomorrow.”
He told me that I should complete the work by the next day.
2. To express advice :

For Example : You should give up drinking.

You should take care of your health.

3. To express duty/ necessity/obligation:

For Example : You should serve your country.

We should help the poor.

You should take exercise daily.

4. To express condition:

For Example : Should you come early, you can see me in my room.

Should he give up drinking, he can hope to win her over.

Walk fast lest you should miss the train.

5. To indicate disapproval of something that was done in the past:

For Example : You shouldn’t have talked rudely to her.

You shouldn’t have risked all your money.

Exercise : 2 (Solved)

Fill in the blanks with ‘would’ or ‘should’

1. I told him that he _______ pass.

2. You _______ respect your elders.

3. Walk fast lest you _______ miss the bus.

4. They _______ sit for hours talking together. (Past habit)

5. _______ that I were the Prime Minister!

6. You _______ take your medicine regularly.

7. I _______ rather fail than cheat.

8. I _______ like to have a cup of tea.

9. You _______ not leave this job.

10. _______ you meet him, give him this book.

Answers : 1. would 2. should 3. should 4. would 5. Would 6. should

7. would 8. would 9. should 10. Should

(5) Use of ‘Can’

1. To express ability/capacity/ inability at present:

For Example : He can lift this heavy box.

She can drive a car.

I cannot solve this sum.

2. To refer to a characteristic (only a sporadic pattern of behaviour, usually in a derogatory sense):
For Example : She can be cunning at times.

Rahul can tell awful lies.

3. To seek or grant permission in an informal manner:

For Example : You can go home now.

Can I take your pen?

Note : [‘May’ can be used instead of ‘Can’. ‘Can’ is generally used as it is less formal than ‘May’.]
4. To express a theoretical possibility:

For Example : It can rain any time during monsoon.

Anyone can make such mistakes.

(6) Use of ‘Could’

1. To express Past Tense of ‘Can’ in Indirect Speech:

For Example : I told him that he could take the test.

2. To express ability/ inability in the past:

For Example : He could lift that heavy box. (He had the ability to....)

He could read and write before he joined the school.

I could not understand what she said as she spoke


Important Note : Could is never used to refer to a single successful achievement:
(i) He ran fast and was able to catch the bus. ( Correct)

(ii) He ran fast and could catch the bus. ( Incorrect)

3. To make a very polite request (more polite than ‘can’) or seek permission:
For Example : Could you give me a glass of water?

Could I take your car for today?

4. To express possibility in conditional sentences:

For Example : If I had the money, I could buy a new house.

Had he played carefully, he could have scored more runs.

5. Special use of could in the sense of ‘failing to resist’

For Example : I could not help laughing.

She could not help dancing.

Exercise 3 (Solved)

Fill in the blanks with ‘can’ or ‘could’:

1. She _______ read and write English well.

2. I told him that he _______ accompany me.

3. He _______ drive a car at the age of twelve.

4. I _______ not help laughing.

5. You _______ go now.

6. He _______ help you if you want.

7. He _______ come to meet me any time.

8. I _______ have availed myself of the opportunity. (But I didn’t)
9. Who _______ be kinder than God?

10. Three years ago, he _______ not even walk.

Answers : 1. can 2. could 3. could 4. could 5. can 6. can 7. can 8. could 9. can 10. could


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