Level: beginner

Possibility

We use may, might and could to say that something is possible, but not certain:

They may come by car. (= Maybe they will come by car.)
They might be at home. (= Maybe they are at home.)
If we don't hurry, we could be late. (= Maybe we will be late.)

We use can to make general statements about what is possible:

It can be very cold here in winter. (= It is sometimes very cold here in winter.)
You can easily get lost in this town. (= People often get lost in this town.)

Be careful!

We do not use can to talk about specific events:

A: Where's John?
B: I'm not sure. He may/might/could be 
(NOT can) in his office.

Notice the difference in meaning between can and may/might/could:

That dog can be dangerous.
(= Sometimes that dog is dangerous. I know.)

That dog may/might/could be dangerous.
(= Perhaps that dog is dangerous. I don't know.)

can and may/might/could

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Level: intermediate

We use may have, might have or could have to make guesses about the past:

I haven't received your letter. It may have got lost in the post.
It's ten o'clock. They might have arrived by now.
Where are they? They could have got lost.

We use could to make general statements about the past:

It could be very cold there in winter. (= It was sometimes very cold there in winter.)
You could easily get lost in that town. (= People often got lost in that town.)

could and could have

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Impossibility

Level: beginner

We use can't or cannot to say that something is impossible:

That can't be true.
You cannot be serious.

Level: intermediate

We use can't have or couldn't have to say that a past event was impossible:

They know the way here. They can't have got lost!
If Jones was at work until six, he couldn't have done the murder.

Certainty

Level: beginner

We use must to show we are sure something is true and we have reasons for our belief:

It's getting dark. It must be quite late.
You haven’t eaten all day. You must be hungry.

We use should to suggest something is true and we have reasons for our suggestion:

Ask Miranda. She should know.
It's nearly six o'clock. They should arrive soon.

Level: intermediate

We use must have and should have for the past:

They hadn't eaten all day. They must have been hungry.
You look happy. You must have heard the good news.
It's nearly eleven o'clock. They should have arrived by now.

Probability 1

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Probability 2

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Probability 3

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Probability 4

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Probability 5

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Comments

I can see nobody is interested in answering my question. Since every question I see on this page has been answered the same day and almost in a few hours, I have to assume that either my question makes no sense at all as to be analysed or I accidentally broke any of the rules on this page. Please, let me know if the latter is the reason why no answer has been replied. Thanks.

Hello Heeppee creepy,

Our role here is to maintain the site and add to it. Answering questions in the comments section is something which we do in addition to that, when time allows.

We see many comments every day and we make decisions on which comments to answer first. Comments which reveal problem with the site have priority. After that we look at which comments are precise, concise and can be answered quickly, so that we can help as many people as possible in the limited time we have. Questions which are long, hard to read and contain multiple queries, such as yours, take a long time for us to answer. If you had asked one concrete question then you would receive an answer quickly. Instead you asked multiple questions in one block of text, making it hard to read.

We will answer you but you must be patient when you ask such a long question.

 

LearnEnglish is a free service and our team is a small one. If the time taken to respond to your comment is too long for you then there are many paid services which will provide you with a quicker response, I am sure.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

No, its OK. I just thought nobody had noticed my question or I had broke a rule on the site, but now I know that I'm "on the air" and that's enough to me. I apologise for the type of question I asked. I know I'm not very concise most of times.

Hi all, I 'm new here and I would like to ask a question to the experts. I prefer to study modal verbs one by one, until I really get to master the one I'm studying I keep going with the next one , and by now I'm stuck with SHOULD +HAVE. firstly I'd like to know if these sentences are OK: 1 it's only ten and she gets off work at 11, she shouldn't have left her office yet, I'll ring her. 2 it's ten and she starts working at nine, she should have arrived at her office by now, I'll ring her ! 3 it's 1 o'clock and she doesn't answer, she shouldn't have arrived at her office yet , I 'll call her later. In the third sentence is where I have serious doubt, first sentence has a positive connotation since I'm happy because I think I still can get a hold of her , and in the third sentence the connotation is negative because I feel worry about the fact that I might not be able to reach her because she hasn't arrive.. The same as in : 1 Tom is very happy, his wife should've told him about her pregnancy already . 2 Tom is very happy, his wife shouldn't have told him about her plans of abortion yet. I'd like to know if SHOULDN'T HAVE can be used with this connotation, and what would the change be if I leave out the ALREADY, YET,
And BY NOW of these sentences . please correct my sentences cause this is what I'm here for ! Thanks .

Hello Heeppee creepy,

In answer to your questions:

it's only ten and she gets off work at 11, she shouldn't have left her office yet, I'll ring her.

'Shouldn't' is possible here, though 'won't' is perhaps more likelyt if your intention is to make a guess about what is likely.

 

it's ten and she starts working at nine, she should have arrived at her office by now, I'll ring her !

Again, the same comment applies. 'Should' is possible here.

 

3 it's 1 o'clock and she doesn't answer, she shouldn't have arrived at her office yet , I 'll call her later.

Here 'shouldn't' suggests a value judgement - that it would be wrong for her to do this. A better alternative is 'won't', which is neutral in terms of judgement and describes simply the speaker's expectation/belief.

1 Tom is very happy, his wife should've told him about her pregnancy already .

2 Tom is very happy, his wife shouldn't have told him about her plans of abortion yet.

Neither of these sentences are likely. Using 'should' in this way suggests a value judgement on the behaviour of Tom's wife - that it was wrong to withhold or give the information, and it does not fit with what I guess is your intended meaning. I suspect the meaning you have in mind would be best expressed by 'must have' and 'mustn't have' respectively - these are modal verbs used to make logical deductions or inferences on the basis of observed evidence.

We don't correct posts by users on LearnEnglish, I'm afraid. We simply have too many users to do so, and as this is a site provided free of charge we have only a small team of people working on it. It is not possible for us to provide a correction service.

I hope the above clarifies these issues for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

It had better be.

How to make

∆∆∆
Negative__Yes/no question__Wh question

Excuse me sir,

I watched a movie and there's a conversation that baffle me.

"I wondered when I'd be seeing you, Mr. Potter"
does it the same like :
"I wondered when I'd see you, Mr. Potter"

If these sentences don't have the same meaning, what is the intention of both sentences ?
Thank you very much :)

Hello frisky,

In this context both forms have a very similar meaning.

 

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sirs!!
Please accept my warm regards on doing such a wonder job. I am confused over using "May" and "Might" and I appreciate, If I am known the difference of using "May" and "Might".
Thank you sir!!

Hello Vijay Soni,

There is little difference  when talking about probability, but please remember that modal verbs have many meanings, so 'may' can also be used for permission, for example. We have organised this section (on modal verbs) so you can see which different modals are used for each concept.

There are differences in meaning when the perfect forms (may have vs might have) are used, but the single-word forms are essentially interchangeable.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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