Will / would: expressing willingness

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sunyaer

Senior Member
Chinese
I came across an article titled Will, would: expressing willingness at http://speakspeak.com/resources/eng...dal-verbs/will-wont-would-wouldnt-willingness
In this article, two example sentences are given with "will" and "would" expressing willingness:

1. "Tom's a really kind person; he will always help you if you need something."

2. "Tom was a really kind person; he'd (he would) always help anyone in any situation."


The author continues to state that "we don't use would to speak about single occasions in the past".

Recall there is a thread at this link in this forum I started before, in which Forero says in post #59 that he would say


3."You said you would help me." (This sentence seems to mean a single occasion.)


According to my experience discussing with native speakers here in this forum, it seems to me that not all of them use "will" and "would" to express willingness". My questions are:

A. Will it be acceptable to you if the word "always" in sentence 1 and 2 is removed?

B. Would you agree with sentence 3 with "would" meaning willingness for a single event?
 
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  • Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    A. The word 'always' can be removed without rendering either sentence 1. or 2. unidiomatic, in my view.

    B. I'm not clear that 3. is a 'would' expressing willingness. It would often be about a single occasion.

    Also, the author of the article talks about willingness in the past.

    3. may well be about the future.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    A: I agree with TT. "Always" adds emphasis, but the sentences work without it. I suppose that sentence 1 without "always" might be referring to a single envisaged occasion, but without context I'd probably take it as a generalisation. Sentence 2 can only be a generalisation.

    B: Sentence 3 might well be about a single occasion. It could express willingness (= you said you were willing to help me); or, as TT says, it could just be a 'future in the past' statement (= you said you were going to help me [not necessarily willingly]). The difference is often not relevant, because in such statements prediction, intention and willingness often go together; but without any clear indication of willingness, I'd probably understand it as a future prediction in the past.

    There's a difference between the example given in the speakspeak.com article and the sentence commented by Forero:

    - The first is an independent clause: "He would help me"; and the author is right that we don't say that in place of "He was willing to help me" or "He agreed to help me" (at least not in present-day English). The claim, "We don't use 'would' to speak about single occasions in the past", is true in such cases. However, it's not universally true ...

    - The second contains a dependent clause (in this case it's indirect speech): "You said (that) you would help me". In such cases we do use 'would' when referring to a single occasion. The speakspeak example, in equivalent indirect speech, would be "He said (that) he would help me". We also see it, quite correctly used, in other dependent clauses referring to a single occasion: "I didn't know when he would help me", "I wondered how he would help me", etc.

    By the way, speakspeak's sentence 2 might express willingness (and combined with Tom's being a really kind person it probably does suggest that). However, it might simply express a past habitual action (yet another use of "would", meaning "used to").

    [Edit]: The differences between these various uses of the past 'would' can be significant in terms of what's happening when.
    - If "he would help" really indicates only willingness, it tells us about his state of mind at that past time, but says nothing about whether he actually did help.
    - If "he would help" refers to a past habitual action, it tells us what he used to do, but says nothing explicit about willingness.
    - If "(that) he would help" is a 'future in the past' construction, it refers to a past prediction of his helping at some time in the then-future; but again, it doesn't explicitly express willingness.

    As I said before, these uses may overlap, and the interpretation of a particular sentence often depends on the context — and may even be debatable, as many threads in the forum show. Such is the challenge of a language that has multi-purpose modals!;)

    Ws:)
     
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    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    A: I agree with TT. "Always" adds emphasis, but the sentences work without it. I suppose that sentence 1 without "always" might be referring to a single envisaged occasion, but without context I'd probably take it as a generalisation. Sentence 2 can only be a generalisation.

    B: Sentence 3 might well be about a single occasion. It could express willingness (= you said you were willing to help me); or, as TT says, it could just be a 'future in the past' statement (= you said you were going to help me [not necessarily willingly]). The difference is often not relevant, because in such statements prediction, intention and willingness often go together; but without any clear indication of willingness, I'd probably understand it as a future prediction in the past.

    There's a difference between the example given in the speakspeak.com article and the sentence commented by Forero:

    - The first is an independent clause: "He would help me"; and the author is right that we don't say that in place of "He was willing to help me" or "He agreed to help me" (at least not in present-day English). The claim, "We don't use 'would' to speak about single occasions in the past", is true in such cases. However, it's not universally true ...

    - The second contains a dependent clause (in this case it's indirect speech): "You said (that) you would help me". In such cases we do use 'would' when referring to a single occasion. The speakspeak example, in equivalent indirect speech, would be "He said (that) he would help me". We also see it, quite correctly used, in other dependent clauses referring to a single occasion: "I didn't know when he would help me", "I wondered how he would help me", etc.

    By the way, speakspeak's sentence 2 might express willingness (and combined with Tom's being a really kind person it probably does suggest that). However, it might simply express a past habitual action (yet another use of "would", meaning "used to").

    [Edit]: The differences between these various uses of the past 'would' can be significant in terms of what's happening when.
    - If "he would help" really indicates only willingness, it tells us about his state of mind at that past time, but says nothing about whether he actually did help.
    - If "he would help" refers to a past habitual action, it tells us what he used to do, but says nothing explicit about willingness.
    - If "(that) he would help" is a 'future in the past' construction, it refers to a past prediction of his helping at some time in the then-future; but again, it doesn't explicitly express willingness.

    As I said before, these uses may overlap, and the interpretation of a particular sentence often depends on the context — and may even be debatable, as many threads in the forum show. Such is the challenge of a language that has multi-purpose modals!;)

    Ws:)
    Wordsmyth, in this post #66, it seems you are not often a user of "will" and "would" expressing willingness. However, if I understand correctly,the above comments show that you are quite agreeable to this usage. Is it that you have adapted to such an usage over the course of realising that other people are using it or you have other reasons to be used to the usage now?
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I wonder a little, Sunyaer, how you are distinguishing 'would' and 'will' expressing willingness from other uses.

    For instance, I'm not clear that You said you would help me is anything other than a past form of You say you will help me, and You say you will help me is as much You say you are going to help me as You say you are willing to help me.

    In other words, I'm not clear that the parallel you draw between your first two sentences in the OP and the third one is fair.

    Also, I doubt your suggestion that there are some native speakers who don't use will to express willingness.

    A classic form of it is in conditional sentences like If you will help me with my homework, I'll be able to get it done more quickly. That's such a common form that I'd be astonished to hear of natives who avoid it.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Wordsmyth, in this post #66, it seems you are not often a user of "will" and "would" expressing willingness. However, if I understand correctly,the above comments show that you are quite agreeable to this usage. Is it that you have adapted to such an usage over the course of realising that other people are using it or you have other reasons to be used to the usage now?
    No, I haven't changed my usage, nor am I any more used to others' usage than I was before.

    In that earlier thread, my comments were about the specific examples we were discussing there, and I was quite agreeable to the idea of "will" and "would" expressing willingness in some cases, but not in all:
    [...] I think we may have a similar situation here with "will/would" expressing willingness. I fully recognise that that was a common meaning in another era, and that it still exists in certain constructions and contexts; it's just that I don't hear it that way (and perhaps most people don't) in some of your examples

    [...]

    OK, I think I could go with that as having a certain sense of willingness or 'being prepared to'. [...]
    In this present thread, the same is true: I've accepted the possibility of "will" and "would" expressing willingness in some cases, but not in all. Nothing has changed.

    The distinction between prediction, willingness, preparedness, intention, insistence, etc, is sometimes unclear. Some statements with will/would may have elements of more than one of those, and the intended sense is often determined (or not!) by the context.

    Sometimes it's more obvious. In TT's example, for instance, the sense of willingness is pretty clear. If the if-clause were to express a simple future condition, we'd use the present tense (because of the backshift in condition clauses): "If you help me with my homework, I'll be able ...". In such a condition clause, we don't use "will" to indicate the future. But the sentence is "If you will help me with my homework", so "will" must have another function: in this case, willingness.

    Ws:)
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I wonder a little, Sunyaer, how you are distinguishing 'would' and 'will' expressing willingness from other uses.

    I use context to determine if there is a sense of willingness involved.

    For instance, I'm not clear that You said you would help me is anything other than a past form of You say you will help me, and You say you will help me is as much You say you are going to help me as You say you are willing to help me.

    Again, if the context is not giving any information about willingness, I will take You said you would help me as the past form of You say you will help me, and You say you will help me as You say you are going to help me not You say you are willing to help me. For example, in "you know I am in trouble, and everyone is trying to avoid me, but you say you will help me", the context gives rise to the sense of willingness carried in "will".

    In other words, I'm not clear that the parallel you draw between your first two sentences in the OP and the third one is fair.

    Also, I doubt your suggestion that there are some native speakers who don't use will to express willingness.

    What I am trying to say here is that, like in this post #66, Wordsmyth doesn't sense willingness in these two sentences as quoted as "in 'I can and will help', I hear 'will' as a pure expression of a future action", and "'will you help me?' (for me, 'will' refers simply to a future action)". To me, "will you help me" carries a sense of willingness in most contexts, if not all.

    A classic form of it is in conditional sentences like If you will help me with my homework, I'll be able to get it done more quickly. That's such a common form that I'd be astonished to hear of natives who avoid it.

    The use of "will" expressing willingness in this sentence is obvious. This is not something I mentioned about native speakers' reluctance in using it.
    The distinction between prediction, willingness, preparedness, intention, insistence, etc, is sometimes unclear. Some statements with will/would may have elements of more than one of those, and the intended sense is often determined (or not!) by the context. question: What does "(or not!)" mean in the bracket?

    In this post #66, Wordsmyth says that "'Will you help me?' (for me, 'will' refers simply to a future action)". It seems to me that most of the times, there is willingness in "will" in this sentence. At least, the context has to be looked at to see if there is.


    Ws:)
     
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    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    This is not something I mentioned about native speakers' reluctance in using it.
    It's not really a question of reluctance. A non-native speaker may think "I want to express willingness. Should I use 'will' or something else?", but native speakers don't do that: they use "will" and "would" instinctively. Similarly, a listener doesn't analyse the statement to decide what degree of willingness there may or may not have been; in most cases it's probably irrelevant.

    The fact that "will" doesn't systematically convey willingness in sentences involving "help" is demonstrated by the fact that "I will willingly help you" is perfectly idiomatic. Someone who says that isn't reluctant to use "will" to express willingness, but almost certainly senses at some level that "will", on its own, isn't enough in some cases.
    What does "(or not!)" mean in the bracket?
    It means that sometimes a specific sense or nuance might not be determined by the context. It might not be possible for a listener or reader to know precisely what was in the mind of the speaker, or indeed whether the speaker had any precise sense in mind. That's pretty evident from the differing interpretations you've seen in this and other threads.

    Ws:)

     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    [...] The fact that "will" doesn't systematically convey willingness in sentences involving "help" is demonstrated by the fact that "I will willingly help you" is perfectly idiomatic. Someone who says that isn't reluctant to use "will" to express willingness, but almost certainly senses at some level that "will", on its own, isn't enough in some cases. [...]
    Could examples of these cases be given?
    [...] It means that sometimes a specific sense or nuance might not be determined by the context. It might not be possible for a listener or reader to know precisely what was in the mind of the speaker, or indeed whether the speaker had any precise sense in mind.[...]
    How would people try to achieve communication at these times?
     
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    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Could examples of these cases be given? [...]
    I've just given you one. You can create as many others as you like by completing "I'll willingly ..." with any verb you want.
    [...] How would people try to achieve communication at these times?
    If you're looking for a language that contains no possibility of ambiguity, and no variance of interpretation, then English isn't it — nor, I would suggest, is any naturally evolved language.

    If absolute precision is required, that can usually be achieved by adding further words to an otherwise 'approximate' statement. And remember that written language is sometimes an inefficient vehicle for representing spoken language. A simple statement such as "I will help you", spoken with enthusiasm, would suggest a greater degree of willingness than if it were said with a grudging tone.

    If you read in a text that someone had uttered an exclamatory swearword, you wouldn't be able to tell whether it expressed anger, surprise, dismay, alarm, or whatever. You may or may not know more from the context. If it were spoken, the tone of voice might tell you the emotion behind it, though there might still be some doubt. The same principles apply to any word that may have more than one meaning or underlying sense.

    Also, some of the discussion in this thread, and in the other one you linked to, seems to revolve around a 'black and white' concept of willingness: that a sentence does or doesn't express willingness. But bear in mind that willingness may exist to a greater or lesser degree, and that one person may interpret an inferred degree of willingness as significant (and therefore say "For me, that sentence expresses willingness"), while another may interpret the same degree as insignificant (and therefore say "For me, that sentence doesn't express willingness").

    Consider:
    - This taxi will take you to the town centre.
    - John will take you to the town centre.
    - I will take you to the town centre.

    Quite clearly, the first cannot express willingness (a taxi can't be willing!). The second may or may not suggest willingness. (How do I know what John is really feeling?). The third one may express willingness, but some people might reasonably argue that the construction is the same as with the taxi, and that "will take" is therefore simply the future tense of "take".

    Your original question was a good one, sunyaer, but if you're looking for a simple, clear-cut answer to explain the nuances of "will" and "would" I'm afraid you'll be disappointed.

    Ws:)
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Someone who says that isn't reluctant to use "will" to express willingness, but almost certainly senses at some level that "will", on its own, isn't enough in some cases.
    Could a context (scenario) be given to show that "will" is not enough to express willingness?

    In daily speaking, is "I'll willingly ..." often heard?
     
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    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Could a context (scenario) be given to show that "will" is not enough to express willingness? [...]
    See my 'taxi/John/I' example above — or in fact any of the contexts, in this thread or the other one, where people have expressed doubt about the sense of willingness.
    [...] In daily speaking, is "I'll willingly ..." often heard?
    Yes.

    Ws:)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    To be honest, I suppose it depends on how much exposure you've had to native speakers. By the way, I assumed that your "in daily speaking" meant "in everyday speech". I wasn't suggesting that every native speaker says it every day.;)

    Rather than give you a single invented dialogue that would give you only a limited view of the usage, I suggest you look at this Google search: there are hundreds of examples in which "I'll willingly ..." is used perfectly naturally.

    Ws:)
     
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    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    To be honest, I suppose it depends on how much exposure you've had to native speakers. By the way, I assumed that your "in daily speaking" meant "in everyday speech". I wasn't suggesting that every native speaker says it every day.;)

    Rather than give you a single invented dialogue that would give you only a limited view of the usage, I suggest you look at this Google search: there are hundreds of examples in which "I'll willingly ..." is used perfectly naturally.

    Ws:)
    I meant informal daily conversation by "daily speaking".

    Some American native speakers I've asked said they wouldn't use "I'll willingly...", but "I'm happy to..." to express willingness. I have the same feeling about the word "willingly", which is appropriate in a formal context, but not in casual conversations; Even "I'm willing to..." sounds a bit formal to me. These Americans admitted that "I'll willingly..." might be natural in British English but they couldn't speak for people on the other side of the Ocean.

    I think it all comes down to how frequently people in the community that the speaker is living in use the word "willing" or "willingly". If these words are used quite often, they have become the usual expressions. If these words are only heard once in a while, when being heard, they mean a bit unusual - in some cases, formal, such as "willing" or "willingly".
     
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    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] Some American native speakers I've asked said they wouldn't use "I'll willingly...", but "I'm happy to..." to express willingness.

    [...] Even "I'm willing to..." sounds a bit formal to me. [...]
    In BrE, both "I'll willingly ..." and "I'm happy to ..." (or "I'll be happy to ...") are heard in everyday conversation.

    I'm happy to accept that "I'll willingly" is avoided or is considered formal by some AmE speakers, but presumably not by all. Amusingly, the first hit that comes up in that Google search I mentioned is a tweet, "the only time I'll willingly drink room temperature water is when I'm high as fuck" — hardly formal language;), and pretty evidently from an AmE speaker, judging by her other tweets.

    Ws:)
     

    taraa

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Hi
    Is this would for willingness?
    "Frank circulated the rumor that his uncle would finance his way through college."
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    It's reported speech: in direct speech the uncle is suppose dto can be supposed to have said "I'll finance your college education". This kind of future form with modal "will" can also be seen as a declaratiion of willingness, so it's rather a fuzzy distinction, I would say.
     
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    taraa

    Senior Member
    Persian
    It's reported speech: in direct speech the uncle is suppose dto have said "I'll finance your college education". This kind of future form with modal "will" can also be seen as a declaratiion of willingness, so it's rather a fuzzy distinction, I would say.
    You explained very well. Thanks a lot :)
     
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