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  • Writer's pictureJerry Brook

Could Should Would

In that specific order.

These three things don’t just go together, they are actually inseparable. It doesn’t make sense to talk about one without including both of the others.

The importance of their connection to one another simply can’t be understated.

Could is, as most of us already know, strictly physical. Could stands for capability. That is – is it doable—or even possible—in the physical sense.

Should is an ethical, moral or motivational imperative. That is, is it reasonable, proper or decent to do this? Does it make sense? Why? What is the reason for doing it, your inspiration?

Would in this context means your own personal inclination or in other words, your desire. That is, given that all things require time, effort, and some sort of sacrifice, is it my choice to go in this direction?

The reason that these three are so important together is precisely because they are so interconnected—intertwined—with each other.

The use of one without the others causes or leads to a multitude of misunderstandings.

How often have you yourself heard someone say “can’t” and thought to yourself, what they really mean is “won’t”?

And yes, sometimes we do it ourselves. We use “can’t” hoping to hide what we really mean, which is “won’t”. In other words, “I really don’t “want” to but if I say “can’t” it will seem as if it is out of my control, or that it simply isn’t possible.”

So, sometimes it is an unintentional misuse of the incorrect word, but sometimes it is intentional, meant to either deceive or confuse.


Let’s face the facts: people are lazy.

Oftentimes, people don’t think before they speak. They don’t put the time and effort it takes to walk themselves through the scenario before they unleash their opinions and often end up having to backtrack in order to “fix” their faux pas.

Also, people tend to fall into bad habits. We use the same old words over and over again without trying to be too exacting. Too many times, we may feel that “close” is good enough.

In general, we just aren’t clear, specific or direct enough.


Because we know that people—even we ourselves—from time to time misuse “could” in place of “would”, we may tend to question or even not to trust the word when we hear it from others.

As for when people use “would I” with no regard for either “could I” or “should I”, they are simply expressing their own desires. When people stop there—when they are only speaking of themselves—they are showing signs of selfishness.

Also, there is the question of deceit when we question “should”. Regardless of whether you “could” and/or “would”, is it ethical, moral or decent to do or say this thing we are considering?

As a simple example, you certainly “could” jump off of a cliff. But should you? Does it make sense to do so? Why? What is your motivation for doing this? And then, “would” you actually do it? Do you have it in you to carry this action forward to its conclusion?

I am certainly not the first to point out that just because you “could” do something does not mean that you “should” or “would” do it.

Could, should, and would are conjoined triplets that cannot be separated by any amount of surgery.

You need all three to be aligned in order to achieve positive results.

Could Should Would Result

Can Shall Will Positive;

You can do it,

You should do it,

You will do it.

Can Shall Won't Negative;

You won't do it.

Can Shan't Will Negative;

You shouldn't do it.

Can Shan't Won't Negative;

You shouldn't do it,

You won't do it.

Can't Shall Will Negative;

You can't do it.

Can't Shall Won't Negative;

You can't do it,

You won't do it.

Can't Shan't Will Negative;

You can't do it,

You shouldn't do it.

Can't Shan't Won't Negative;

You can't do it,

You shouldn't do it,

You won't do it.

Now, it may seem as if I have just made your life a little bit more complex by giving you three more things to think about whereas before you only had to consider one. But do not fear!

The number of misunderstandings and the amount of deceit that you will avoid by using these three together will more than make up for the time and effort it takes to use all three of them at the same time.

Could/Should/Would Challenge

This week’s challenge for you is to stop and think before you speak. Choose your words wisely and pay closer attention to the words that others use. Is it “could” when what is really meant is “would”?

Use all three words (at least mentally) at all times. The more that you know the better off you will be. By understanding the interplay between these three words, you will make better choices and have better communication.

Good Together: your guide to healthy, happy relationships

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