How to use Could, Would, Should Correctly.

How to use Could, Would, Should Correctly.

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She could pass the test.
Would you wait here for a while?
Should we go around the block to find Kitty?

She could have passed the test.
Would you have waited for a while?
Should we have gone around the block to find Kitty?

One of the common mistakes among Malaysians when using auxiliary verbs ‘Could’, ‘Would’ and ‘Should’ is: NOT USING THE CORRECT TENSE for the verb that follows. Examples include those that are given above.

It is important to note these nuances as the incorrect tenses used after the use of auxiliary verbs ‘Could‘, ‘Would‘ and ‘Should‘ might well alter the meaning of your sentences. In this blog post, I will show the TWO ways to use these auxiliary verbs correctly. And as usual, I will provide Bahasa Melayu translation so that the different meanings carried by the each sentences can be spotted easily.

The TWO Ways to Use Would, Could and Should Correctly:

1. Could/Would/Should + Root Word
2. Could/Would/Should + ‘Present Perfect Tense’

Could/Would/Should + Root Word

The formula above is fool-proof in getting your tenses right when using the auxiliary verbs ‘Could’, ‘Would’ and ‘Should’. The reason auxiliary verb is followed with a Root Word is because ‘Could’, ‘Would’ and ‘Should’ are the past tenses of ‘Can’, ‘Will’ and ‘Shall’ respectively.

As per the use of ‘Did’ as a past tense of ‘Do’, the following word that follows should be a ‘Root Word’.

A Root Word is the most basic part of a word, for example:

  1. Walk
  2. Talk
  3. Swim
  4. Eat
  5. Dance

Now let’s crack into the examples above to anchor your understanding.

Example 1. She could pass the test.

In the example above, the formula Could/Would/Should + Root Word is observed. In this sentence, we can assume that it is expressed by a person who has confidence that the lady/girl can ace a test. On the other hand, it could also mean that the lady/girl had just been granted with a passing mark to a test.

In Bahasa Melayu, the meaning carried by the sentence is as follows:
a. Dia mampu lulus ujian itu.
b. Dia diizinkan untuk lulus ujian itu.

Notice that the phrase ‘could pass’ carry the meaning of ‘mampu lulus’, instead of ‘boleh lulus’? And, ‘diizinkan untuk lulus‘ instead of ‘dibolehkan untuk lulus’?

Example 2. Would you wait here for a while?

In this example, the formula Could/Would/Should + Root Word is observed. In this sentence, we can assume that it is a question by someone who wanted a person to wait for him/her for a moment. Do note that this question is asked with an assumption that the other person has not agreed to waiting.

In Bahasa Melayu, the meaning carried by the sentence is as follows:
a. Sudikah awak menunggu di sini sebentar?

Notice that the phrase ‘would you’ carry the meaning of ‘sudikah awak‘, instead of ‘bolehkah awak‘? The use of ‘Would’ and ‘Could’ is always more consensual than directive.

Example 3. Should we go around the block to find Kitty?

In this example, the formula Could/Would/Should + Root Word is observed. In this sentence, we can assume that a cat went missing and a person wants to search for it around the block. Do note that the use of ‘Should’ in this question is suggestive.

In Bahasa Melayu, the meaning carried by the sentence is as follows:
a. Mari kita cari Kitty di seluruh blok ini?

Notice that the phrase ‘should we’ carry the meaning of ‘mari kita‘, instead if ‘haruskah kita‘? If the meaning we intended to convey was ‘haruskah kita‘, use ‘Do we go around the block to find Kitty?’

Could/Would/Should + ‘Present Perfect Tense’

The formula above is fool-proof in getting your tenses right when using the auxiliary verbs ‘Could’, ‘Would’ and ‘Should’. The reason auxiliary verb is followed with a ‘Present Perfect Tense’ is because ‘Could’, ‘Would’ and ‘Should’ are suggestive, consensual or refers to a previous action/state that had happened before.

As per the use of ‘Present Perfect Tense’, the following phrase that follows should start with ‘have’.

Examples of ‘Present Perfect Tense’:

  1. ‘have walked’
  2. ‘has talked’
  3. ‘have swam’
  4. ‘has eaten’
  5. ‘have danced’

Now let’s crack into the examples above to anchor your understanding.

Example 4. She could have passed the test.

In the example above, the formula Could/Would/Should + ‘Present Prefect Tense’ is observed.So, we can assume that it is expressed by a person who has confidence that the lady/girl can ace a test, but didn’t.

In Bahasa Melayu, the meaning carried by the sentence is as follows:
a. Dia sepatutnya mampu lulus ujian itu.
b. Dia mungkin sudah lulus ujian itu.

Notice that the phrase ‘could have passed’ carry the meaning of ‘sepatutnya mampu lulus‘, and ‘mungkin sudah lulus‘?

Example 5. Would you have waited for a while?

In this example, the formula Could/Would/Should + ‘Present Prefect Tense’ is observed. In this sentence, we can assume that it is a question by someone who wanted a person to wait for him/her for a moment, but didn’t. Do note that this question is asked, with an assumption that the other person has not agreed to waiting.

In Bahasa Melayu, the meaning carried by the sentence is as follows:
a. Tak sudikah awak menunggu sebentar?
b. Jika awak, adakah awak akan tunggu?

Notice that the phrase ‘would you have’ carry the meaning of ‘tak sudikah awak‘, instead of ‘mengapa awak tidak‘? The use of ‘Would’ and ‘Could’ is always more consensual than probing.

On the other hand, ‘would you have’ also carry the meaning of ‘jika awak, adakah awak akan…‘ The use of ‘would you have’ in such situation is in referencing a previous action/state.

Example 6. Should we have gone around the block to find Kitty?

In this example, the Could/Would/Should + ‘Present Perfect Tense’ is observed. In this sentence, we can assume that a cat went missing and a person wants to search for it around the block, but didn’t. Do note that the use of ‘Should’ in this question is suggestive.

In Bahasa Melayu, the meaning carried by the sentence is as follows:
a. Adakah kita sepatutnya cari Kitty di seluruh blok ini?

Notice that the phrase ‘should we have’ carry the meaning of ‘adakah kita sepatutnya‘. If the meaning we intended to convey was ‘mengapa kita tidak‘, use ‘Why didn’t we go around the block to find Kitty?’

Just in case you are wondering about the use of Past Participle in the ‘Present Perfect Tense’ describe above, you may learn more here.

I hope the SIX examples on the correct use of Would, Could and Should is clear so that you can communicate your thoughts and ideas more effectively. Was there any example that you thought hit you right in the bullseye? Do let me know in the Comment section below. Or you may reply to me via email if you subscribe to the Baini Mustafa Weekly Email.

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Until then, communicate effectively because your global audience are just waiting to hear the ideas and knowledge from you!

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