[ wood-bee ]
/ ˈwʊdˌbi /
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wishing or pretending to be: a would-be wit.
intended to be: a would-be kindness.
a person who wishes or pretends to be something: Opera singers and would-bes should practice at least four hours a day.
Were you ready for a quiz on this topic? Well, here it is! See how well you can differentiate between the uses of "was" vs. "were" in this quiz.
Question 1 of 7
“Was” is used for the indicative past tense of “to be,” and “were” is only used for the subjunctive past tense.

Origin of would-be

1250–1300; Middle English (adj.)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

How to use would-be in a sentence

  • July 17: A little upset by the episode of the wouldbe assassin, I decided to go up to London for the day.

  • A big word that Mr. Wouldbe uses where Mr. Is uses the little word live.

    The Verbalist|Thomas Embly Osmun, (AKA Alfred Ayres)
  • Many criminals are acquitted who wouldbe convicted if the penalty were imprisonment.

    Public Speaking|Clarence Stratton

British Dictionary definitions for would-be


adjective (prenominal)
usually derogatory wanting or professing to bea would-be politician
intended to bewould-be generosity
derogatory a person who wants or professes to be something that he is not
Indian the person to whom one is is engaged to be married; fiancé or fiancée
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012