How to Use Could, Should and Would

Could, should and would sound similar, but they are different words with different meanings. We’ll take you through their definitions and show you some examples.

Apart from being the past tenses of:

can (past tense: could),

will (past tense: would),

shall (past tense: should),

could, should and would also mean the following:

Could definition and examples

Definition of could:

  1. used to express that there was ability to do something in the past, or that an action or state was possible in the past.
  2. used in present or future time to talk about some action or state that is possible but not certain; often used in polite requests or offers.

Could can be used to describe something that happened in the past.


He could have performed better at his piano recital if he had practiced more.

Could can also be used to describe something that may happen in the future.


He could make the boys top-level soccer team if he keeps playing as well as he is now.

Could can also be used as part of a question.


Could you explain how you solve this math problem?

Should definition and examples

Should definition:

  1. used to express what is important for one to do.
  2. used to express what is expected or predicted based on what makes logical sense.
  3. used to express someone's opinion of the proper behavior or state of something, even if it is not true in reality.
  4. used to express a possibility, but one that is not considered very likely (often used with "if").

Should is used when giving advice.


You should brush your teeth every morning and night.

Should is used to predict something based on logical sense.


It takes only 10 minutes to get to the soccer field, so we should be there shortly.

Should is used to express an opinion on behavior or the state of something.


Why are your dirty clothes on the floor? They should be in the laundry basket.

Should is used to express the possibility of something happening.


If grandma should refuse to babysit, we’ll have to ask someone else to take care of the kids.

Would definition and examples

Would definition:

  1. used with the same meaning as will but showing that the action or state being talked about is not real.
  2. used to form polite requests.

Would is used to describe a possible situation that has not happened or that is imagined.


She would love to travel to Europe, but she doesn’t even have enough money for the plane ticket.

Would is used to make polite requests.


Would you go buy some milk, please?