Level: beginner

The modal verbs are: 



We use modals to show if we believe something is certain, possible or impossible:

My keys must be in the car.
It might rain tomorrow.
That can't be Peter's coat. It's too small.

We also use them to do things like talk about ability, ask permission, and make requests and offers:

I can't swim.
May I ask a question?
Could I have some tea, please?
Would you like some help?

Modal verbs




Hi, I was watching a movie and I found one girl says to a boy 'I promised my mother not to do this' and then the the boy says to the girl ' why would you say this?' Here, does this sentence mean 'Why did you say this?' or 'Would' has a different meaning like in 2nd conditional sentence? I don't understand? Please explain with some further examples?

Hello jitu_jaga,

'would' can be used to speak about willingness to do something in the past – that is how I would understand this here. It's another way of saying 'Why did you want to say this?'

'would' is also used to express a hypothetical situation; perhaps one could argue that that is how the boy was thinking about it, but in this context I'd say it's more an expression of willingness.

In any case, it's clear that it means the same thing as the past simple form you suggest in this context.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk for clearing my doubt. Have a nice day.

Sir, I had to wash a lot of clothes. This sentence means that I did wash the clothes, but if I say " I had to wash a lot of clothes, and then add, but I couldn't or didn't". This means that I didn't wash the clothes.
Now The question is, Should I use 'Had to' if I didn't wash clothes adding 'I couldn't or I didn't '
or Should I use 'Supposed to' like this - I was supposed to wash a lot of clothes, but I couldn't or I didn't ?

Do they both mean the same thing or Is one of them not correct ? while the other is correct.

Hello SonuKumar,

If you say I had to wash a lot of clothes then we do not know if you washed them or not; we know only that you had this obligation. We may guess what you did, but the sentence does not tell us.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! I have a question regarding some examples with modal verbs if you could help me.
Examples: 1.They took some extra blankets în case they should get cold.
2.It's essential that everyone should arrive on time.
3.They were going to call this morning, so he should know about the job by now.
Why can't we put, in all the sentences,'would' instead of 'should'?

Hi Carmen,

There structures in these three sentences are different. In 1, 'in case' is not followed by 'would', but rather by a past tense verb. In this case, the verb should be in the past simple, since this sentence refers to the past. I can see how 'would' would seem to make sense here, as it speaks about a hypothetical situation, but 'would' isn't used in a clause beginning with 'in case'.

In 2, 'It's essential that' begins a clause that speaks of necessity. Although 'should' is not exactly wrong here, a subjunctive form such as 'arrive' is more common. 'would' isn't used here.

In 3, 'should' indicates what we expect to communicate probability. 'would' can be used to indicate probability in some cases, but this form is a little unusual and is not usually used in one clause connected to another clause.

I hope that helps you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the prompt response. As regards the use of 'would' to refer to future events by some publications, I would have sent you the snapshots/screenshots of such usages so that you could appreciate the context of the use. But posting pictures in response box is not possible on your site.

I think, this is probably due to the use of 'could' and 'might' as tentative versions of 'can' and 'may' respectively that 'would' is used in the same vein as a weak version of 'will' and used for real future references. You can throw better light on it. Eager to hear from you on this topic.


Hi Adya's,

The examples you provided are inconsistent in my opinion. As you mention, the problem is the use of would for real or certain future events. There needs to be an explicit or implied qualification of some kind to make the event unlikely or uncertain.

In your examples we have the opposite. We have decided introduces a decision which has been taken and is, therefore, necessarily real; will is needed here, not would. In the second example the phrase if you buy today makes it clear that a real or likely situation is in mind and so would is inconsistent.

I can't really think of a context in which would would be appropriate here, and I think it is far more likely that these are simply inaccurate sentences and that the newspapers in which they were published would benefit from better proofreaders!



The LearnEnglish Team

This question has been baffling me for some time. Even in standard newspapers I find frequent use of 'would' to refer to future events. There is no indirect speech reporting with a past tense reporting verb, yet 'would' is used to describe future events! For example, "We have decided that we would not attend the meeting". Or like, "If you buy today, we would give you a good discount".

Is it correct to do so? Please respond and clarify my doubts.