Wednesday, November 25, 2015


The verbs can, could, will, would, should, may, might, must, ought and shall are verbs which 'help' other verbs to express a meaning: it is important to realise that these "modal verbs" have no meaning by themselves. A modal verb such as would has several varying functions; it can be used, for example, to help verbs express ideas about the past, the present and the future. It is therefore wrong to simply believe that "would is the past of will": it is many other things.

A modal verb (also 'modal', 'modal auxiliary verb', 'modal auxiliary') is a type of verb that is used to indicate modality – that is, likelihood, ability, permission, and obligation.Examples include the English verbs can/could, may/might, must, will/would, and shall/should. In English and other Germanic languages, modal verbs are often distinguished as a class based on certain grammatical properties.

Modal verbs are NEVER used with other auxiliary verbs such as do, does, did etc. The negative is formed simply by adding "not" after the verb; questions are formed by inversion of the verb and subject:

You should not do that.
Could you pick me up when I've finished?

Modal verbs NEVER change form: you can never add an "-s" or "-ed", for example.

Modal verbs are NEVER followed by to, with the exception of ought to.

they are not used to talk about things that definitely exist, or events that definitely happened. These meanings are sometimes divided into two groups:

DEGREES OF CERTAINTY: certainty; probability; possibility; impossibility
OBLIGATION/FREEDOM TO ACT: permission,lack of permission; ability; obligation.

Must Ought to

Each modal verb separately and the functions they help to express


Making personal predictions
I don't think the King will ever let off.
I doubt if I'll stay there for another year.
Talking about the present with certainty (making deductions)
I'm sure they will understand that there is nothing the Department can do.
There's a note for you. It'll be from the office: they said they'd be waiting.
Talking about the future with certainty
I won't be there for the next 3 hours; I've got some stuff to do.
Don't bother ringing: they'll have left for their 10 o'clock lecture.
Talking about the past with certainty
I'm sure you will have noticed that attendance has fallen sharply.
Reassuring someone
Don't worry! You'll be fine,trust me.
It'll be all right! You won't have to leave him alone at home.
Making a decision
For the dessert I'll have a red velvet cupcake.
I'm very sleepy. I think I'll stay at home tonight.
Making a semi-formal request
Will you close the door, please? It's very cold in here.
Take this, will you?
Offering to do something
You stay here! I'll fetch the foods.
Insistence; habitual behavior
I'm not surprised you don't know what to do! You will keep talking in class.
Damn! My car won't start. I'll have to call the garage.
Making a promise or a threat
You can count on me! I'll be there at 6 o'clock sharp.
If you don't finish your breakfast off, you'll have to drive alone to school !


Shall is a form of will, used mostly in the first person. Its use, however, is decreasing, and in any case in spoken English it would be contracted to "-ll" and be indistinguishable from will.
The only time you do need to use it is in questions, when:
Making offers
Shall I give you another bottle of wine?
Making suggestions
Shall we go to the restaurant tonight?

May and Might

May and might sometimes have virtually the same meaning; they are used to talk about possibilities in the past, present or future. ("Could" is also sometimes used).
May is sometimes a little bit "more sure" (50% chance); whereas might expresses more doubt (maybe only a 30% chance).
May and might are used for :
Talking about the present or future with uncertainty
I may go clubbing this night, I haven't decided yet.
America might lose the World Cup, you never know.
Talking about the past with uncertainty
I'm shocked she failed. I suppose she might have been sick on the day of the exam.
They can also sometimes be used for talking about permission, but usually only in formal situations. Instead of saying May I open a window? we would say Is it all right/OK if I open a window? or Can I open a window? for example. You might, however, see:
Teachers may not bring school’s equipment without written permission.


Talking about things that can happen in certain situations
If the monitors are used in poorly lit places, some users may experience headaches.
Each doctor may be responsible for up to twelve patients.
With a similar meaning to although
The experiment may have been a success, but there is still a lot of work to be done. (Although it was a success, there is still)


Saying that something was possible, but did not actually happen
You told me to wait for you at the bus stop! You might have called me!


As the past of will, for example in indirect speech
"The next meeting will be in a month's time" becomes He said the next meeting would be in a month's time.
Polite requests and offers (a 'softer' form of will)
Would you like another cup of coffee?
Would you give me a call after dinner?
In conditionals, to indicate 'distance from reality': imagined, unreal, impossible situations
If I ruled the world, every month would be the first month of winter.
It would have been great if you'd word processed your assignment.
After 'wish', to show regret or irritation over someone (or something's) refusal or insistence on doing something (present or future)
I wish you wouldn't keep bothering me.
I wish it would rain.
Talking about past habits (similar meaning to used to)
When I was little, we would always visit our families on Eid Mubarak.
Future in the past
The assassination would become one of the key events of the century.

Can and Could

Talking about ability
Can you write in English? (present)
He could play the drum when he was six. (past)
Making requests
Can you give me a ring at about 10?
Could you listen up a bit please? (slightly more formal, polite or 'softer')
Asking permission
Can I ask you a question?
Could I ask you about you personally? (more formal, polite or indirect)
Reported speech
Could is used as the past of can.
He asked me if I could pick him up after work.
General possibility
You can drink when you’re 22. (present)
Women couldn't vote until just after the First World War.
Choice and opportunities
If you want some help with your writing, you can come to classes, or you can get some 1:1 help.
We could go to Stratford tomorrow, but the forecast's not brilliant. (less definite)
Future probability
Could (NOT can) is sometimes used in the same way as might or may, often indicating something less definite.
When I leave university I might travel around a bit, I might do an MA or I suppose I could even get a job.
Present possibility
I think you could be right you know. (NOT can)
That can't be the right answer, it just doesn't make sense.
Past possibility
If I'd known the lecture had been cancelled, I could have stayed in bed longer.


Examples here refer to British English; there is some variation in American English.
Necessity and obligation
Must is often used to indicate 'personal' obligation; what you think you yourself or other people/things must do. If the obligation comes from outside (eg a rule or law), then have to is often (but not always) preferred:
People must try to be more tolerant of each other.
If you own a car, you have to pay an annual road tax.
Strong advice and invitations
You must go and see the concert- it's really great.
You must come and see the concert with me next time.
Saying you think something is certain
This must be the place - there's a black truck parked outside.
What a suntan! You must have had great weather.
The negative is expressed by can't:
You're going to throw away all her picture! You can't be serious!
She didn't say hi, she can't have seen me.


Giving advice
You shouldn't be drinking if you're on antibiotics.
You shouldn't have ordered that chocolate dessert you're not going to finish it.
Obligation: weak form of must
The university should provide more sports facilities.
The equipment should be inspected regularly.
I should have renewed my TV licence last month, but I forgot.
You shouldn't have spent so much time on that first question.

Ought to

Ought to usually has the same meaning as should, particularly in affirmative statements in the present:
You should/ought to get your hair cut.

Choose the right modal verb :

1.    There are plenty of tomatoes in the fridge. You   buy any.
2.     It's a hospital. You   smoke.
3.    He had been working for more than 11 hours. He   be tired after such hard work. He   prefer to get      some rest.
4.   I speak Arabic fluently when I was a child and we lived in Morocco. But after we moved back to Canada, I had very little exposure to the language and forgot almost everything I knew as a child. Now, I   just say a few things in the language.
5.   The teacher said we   read this book for our own pleasure as it is optional. But we   read it if we don't  want to.
6.     you stand on your head for more than a minute? No, I    .
7.     If you want to learn to speak English fluently, you   to work hard.
8.    Take an umbrella. It   rain later.
9.    You   leave small objects lying around . Such objects   be swallowed by children.
10.  People   walk on grass.
11.  Drivers   stop when the traffic lights are red.
12.    I ask a question? Yes, of course.
13.  You    take your umbrella. It is not raining.
14.  you speak Italian? No, I   .

1.    There are plenty of tomatoes in the fridge. You needn't  buy any.
2.     It's a hospital. You mustn't smoke.
3.   He had been working for more than 11 hours. He must be tired after such haed work. He may prefer to get some rest.
4.   I could speak Arabic fluently when I was a child and we lived in Morocco. But after we moved back to Canada, I had very little exposure to the language and forgot almost everything I knew as a child. Now, I can just say a few things in the language.
5.    The teacher said we can  read this book for our own pleasure as it is optional. But we can read it if we don't want to.
6.    Can you stand on your head for more than a minute? No, I can't.
7.    If you want to learn to speak English fluently, you need to work hard. .
8.    Take an umbrella. It might rain later.
9.    You shouldn't leave small objects lying around . Such objects may be swallowed by children.
10.  People mustn't walk on grass.
11.  Drivers must stop when the traffic lights are red.
12.  May I ask a question? Yes, of course.
13.  You needn't  take your umbrella. It is not raining.
14.  Can you speak Italian? No, I can't.

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