Modal Auxiliary Verbs - Will  


As a modal auxiliary verb, will is particularly versatile, having several different functions and meanings. It is used to form future tenses, to express willingness or ability, to make requests or offers, to complete conditional sentences, to express likelihood in the immediate present, or to issue commands.

Creating the future tense

One of will’s most common uses as a modal verb is to talk about things that are certain, very likely, or planned to happen in the future. In this way, it is used to create an approximation of the future simple tense and the future continuous tense. For example:
Will can also be used to make the future perfect tense and the future perfect continuous tense. These tenses both describe a scenario that began in the past and will either finish in or continue into the future. For example:
If we want to make any of the future tenses negative, we use not between will and the main verb or the next occurring auxiliary verb. We often contract will and not into won’t. For example:
  • “I won’t be seeing the movie with you tonight.”
  • “At this pace, she won’t finish in first place.”
If we want to make a question (an interrogative sentence), we invert will with the subject, as in:
  • “What will they do with the money?”
  • Won’t you be coming with us?”

Ability and willingness

We also sometimes use will to express or inquire about a person or thing’s ability or willingness to do something. It is very similar to the future tense, but is used for more immediate actions. For example:
  • “You wash the dishes; I’ll take out the trash.”
  • “This darn washing machine won’t turn on.”
  • Won’t Mary come out of her room?”

Requests and offers

We often create interrogative sentences using will to make requests or polite offers. They are usually addressed to someone in the second person, as in:
  • Will you walk the dog, Jim?”
  • Will you have a cup of tea, Sam?”
However, we can use subjects in the first and third person as well. For instance:
  • Will Jonathan bring his truck around here tomorrow?”
  • Will your friend join us for some lunch?”

Conditional sentences

In present-tense conditional sentences formed using if, we often use will to express an expected hypothetical outcome. This is known as the first conditional. For example:
  • If I see him, I will tell him the news.”
  • “I won’t have to say goodbye if I don’t go to the airport.”

Likelihood and certainty

In addition to expressing actions or intentions of the future, we can also use will to express the likelihood or certainty that something is the case in the immediate present. For instance:
  • (in response to the phone ringing) “That will be Jane—I’m expecting her call.”
  • Speaker A: “Who is that with Jeff?”
  • Speaker B: “That’ll be his new husband. They were just married in May.”


Finally, we can use will to issue commands, orders, or maxims. These have an added forcefulness in comparison to imperative sentences, as they express a certainty that the command will be obeyed. For example:
  • “You will finish your homework this instant!”
  • “This house will not be used as a hotel for your friends, do you understand me?”

Substituting Modal Verbs

In many cases, modal auxiliary verbs can be used in place of others to create slightly different meanings. For example, we can use the word shall in place of will in to express polite invitations. Similarly, would can also be substituted for will in requests to make them more polite.
Explore the section on Substituting Modal Verbs to see how and when other modal auxiliary verbs overlap.

1. Which of the following is not a function of will as a modal verb?

2. Which of the following sentences is a conditional sentence?

3. Where does the modal verb will appear in an interrogative sentence?

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