Can, Could, Will, Would
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Similar Words > Can, Could, Will, Would
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When you ask a person to do something, you can say:
- Can you help me?
- Could you help me?
- Will you help me?
- Would you help me?
So what is the difference and when would you use each variant? All are
requests for help, yet each has a subtle difference in meaning and effect.
- 'Can' and 'Could' both are about
possibility. A person
could answer 'yes' and still refuse to help. Yet the words also suggest that
saying 'no' indicates that they are incapable, which may lead them to say
'yes' just to refute this implied lack of ability. For this reason, 'can'
and 'could' can be more effective, even though they are also more
- 'Can' is more direct than 'Could' as it directly references ability, and
hence is a stronger approach that will influence some, but may cause
resistance in others. 'Could' is past tense and hence less immediate.
- 'Will' is future tense and is the most direct request. In formal
situations where clarity is needed it is the best response. At times when
the other person is concerned about status it may get a direct refusal that
prevents further negotiation. 'Will' requests may be usefully softened with
such as 'Will you please...'.
- 'Would' is past tense and hence less direct than 'Will', yet less
indirect than 'Can' or 'Could'. It can also suggest conditionality, such as
'If I did this would you do that?'
Can you lift this? Of course you can. Come on, then.
If I cook you dinner, would you peel the vegetables?
I wasn't sure if you could fix this, but I know you will if
Overall, while the requests are identical, there are subtle differences as
above. In many situations there will be little or no difference in the response,
but when people are less sensitive to manipulation, then the possibility form
can be used, while in formal settings 'Will' is better. 'Please' may also be
added as appropriate to be more friendly and increase obligation to comply.