BizWritingTip reader: “I am not sure when to use ‘could’ as opposed to ‘would.’ For example, I often write: ‘Would you be able to send me the figures?’ It seems more polite, but is it grammatically correct?”
BizWritingTip response: Yes. It is grammatically correct. “Would” and “could” are similar words with slightly different meanings. It is up to you to decide what impression you want to give. The root word of “would” is “will.” Using “would” shows you are giving the reader permission to say “no.” It is the more formal choice.
Would you please send me the figures on Friday? (You have an option — yes or no.)
Will you please send me the figures by Friday? (Less formal — you still have an option.)
The root word of “could” is “can.” Both words are used to express ability. However, “can” is used for the present tense and is straight forward.
Can you send me the figures by Friday? (Do you have the ability to send me the figures by Friday?)
“Could” also carries the sense of ability but under some condition.
If you have the time, could you please submit your expense account by the end of the day?
We could have won the contract if we had lowered our prices.
Could you please send me the figures by Friday? (The unwritten condition in this example is “if you are able.”)
Now what about the punctuation marks for these questions? Putting a question mark after a request makes the “ask” more polite. Putting a period after a request makes the “ask” more demanding.
Would you please send the report to the board secretary? (Polite request)
Would you please send the report to the board secretary. (Demanding)
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