Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Today we’re answering a listener’s English grammar question.

How do you know when to use ‘didn’t’ and ‘wouldn’t’?

Listen in to learn how to talk about things that happened in the past.

You’ll find out the difference between ‘didn’t’ and ‘wouldn’t.’

Additionally, you’ll learn how it fits into your conversations with native English speakers.

‘Didn’t’ versus ‘wouldn’t’

To start the episode, here is a quick roleplay as a preview to today’s topic:

Lindsay: Is Jessica coming over to our party?
Michelle: I don’t know; she didn’t tell me.
Lindsay: Didn’t you ask?
Michelle: I did, but she wouldn’t tell me!

If you noticed, Michelle and Lindsay were using the words ‘didn’t’ and ‘wouldn’t.’

Today’s episode was inspired by a listener’s question.

She wanted to know when to use ‘didn’t’ and ‘wouldn’t.’

Hey you guys, how’s it going? I’m Iriel David from Piauí, Brasil. I’m a big fan of AEE, I listen to you guys every day and your podcast is basically the only one I listen to bc I think it’s the best! So, I have a question for you and I’d love you to answer me in one episode. The question is: How do I know when to use ‘Would’, ‘used to’, or the simple past tense? Never know which one to use. Ex: I’ve known her since I was I kid, but didn’t talk to her that much/ or wouldn’t talk to her that much/ or I didn’t use to talk to her that much? Thank you so much for answering! Take care!


This can be tricky and there are a lot of dynamics to tackle.

Used to vs. use to

We recently covered ‘used to’ vs. ‘use to’ on IELTS Energy.

You can see that episode here: IELTS Energy 989: Grammar – Should You Say “Used to” or “Use to”?

We use this verb often in business emails.

We’ll cover this in detail in an upcoming episode of the business English podcast, so be sure to follow!

Breaking down the question

Iriel has made some interesting points and raised very good questions.

Lindsay and Michelle break down the questions and go through each example and discuss.

  • “I’ve known her since I was a kid, but didn’t talk to her that much.” – This example focuses on the statement as a fact and we are no longer dwelling on why.
  • “I’ve known her since I was a kid, but I wouldn’t talk to her that much” – In this example, it seems like you refused to talk to the kid. Using ‘wouldn’t’ in this way sounds more like there was a reason you didn’t talk to her that much.
  • “She didn’t go to sleep” – This sentence is saying she just did not sleep as a fact.

Lindsay: I’m exhausted. I was up all night.
Michelle: Why?
Lindsay: The baby just didn’t go to sleep.

  • “She wouldn’t go to sleep” – In comparison to the previous sentence, in this scenario, she refused to sleep even if she could. Exercising your free will is clear in this example.

Lindsay: I’m exhausted. I was up all night.
Michelle: Why?
Lindsay: The baby just wouldn’t go to sleep.

Free will

The difference is about the degree to which one is exercising their free will.

If it is a fact, you would use ‘didn’t’.

However, if you’re trying to convey that something or someone will not do something even if they can, you should use ‘wouldn’t.’

If they’re using their free will to purposefully do something, we use ‘wouldn’t.’


The following roleplay will clarify the difference between ‘didn’t’ and ‘wouldn’t.’

In this scenario, Lindsay and Michelle are talking about their travel experience.

Lindsay: Did you go to the big holiday market when you were in NY last year?
Michelle: No I didn’t. I wanted to go but my friend wouldn’t get up in time and then it was closed.
Lindsay: She didn’t get up in time?
Michelle: I tried to get her up but she wouldn’t get up. She was too tired. And it ended at 11 a.m. Too bad. I was really upset about it and wouldn’t talk to her for the rest of the day.
Lindsay: I didn’t know you guys weren’t great travel buddies.
Michelle: We didn’t use to have problems, but I think that’s our last trip together.


It can be very difficult to differentiate between ‘didn’t’ and ‘wouldn’t.’

However, today’s tips and examples clarify which to use.

Take note of the key difference mentioned by Lindsay and Michelle.

You have to check the degree of free will being used and decide which word is appropriate.

Keep practicing and surrounding yourself with English material to help you improve your English level.

What other words do you want the All Ears English team to talk about?

Share them in the comments below.

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