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Modal verbs

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




Hello. Could you please help me? Some English teacher are for "have to" but others are for "must". What do you thin?
- You (must - have to) get a licence if you want to drive a car.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Both forms are possible here. It entirely depends on how the speaker sees the situation: more as a legal requirement or more as something a person should (morally, sensibly) choose to do.



The LearnEnglish Team

Good evening Teachers, i have a couple of questions for you:

if i were to go on Holiday i would visit colorado spring next summer;
if i was gonna go on Holiday i would visit colorado spring next summer
I think they have different meanings , don't they?
i was never gonna do that ; i should never have done that. here i guess they have the same meaning instead.

thanks in advance.

Hi. I would like to ask if there can be a modal verb and "was" in the same sentence.

Hello Pana Elena,

Yes, you can. You could have them in separate clauses, for example. However, that does not mean that the examples you are thinking about are correct. Perhaps you could tell us the example(s) you have in mind, and we'll better understand what you are really asking about.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi! I'm Maria,
I would like to know why "ought to" isn't listed, and what is the difference between "should" and "ought to?
Thank you!


The rope was so strong that no one could break it or no one was able to break it.
These last two sentences mean that everyone tried to break the rope but no one succeeded.

But does this sentence 'No one could have broken it' mean anything different ?

And what does it mean "I don't think anyone could have done it" ?

Hello SonuKumar,

If we say no-one could break it then we could be speaking generally (it was not possible) or specifically (people tried and failed).

If we say no-one was able to break it then we are speaking specifically (people tried and failed). To use able to with a general meaning we would need to say no-one would be able to break it.


If you say no-one could have broken it then the possibility of breaking it must be in the past and not in the present. For example, the rope may no longer exist, or it may now be not accessible. The meaning of your last sentence is similar. The speaker is speculating about a past situation, not one which is still current.



The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, Peter,

The rope was so strong that no-one could have broken it.

Does this sentence mean that no-one could or was able to break it or does it speculate that probably no-one may have broken it ?

And what do these two sentences below mean ?

'I think no-one could have done it.'
'I don't think anyone could have saved you'

Does the speaker mean that no-one was able to or could do it or does the speaker mean that no-one may have done it ?

Likewise in the second sentence,
Does the speaker mean that no-one was able to or could save you or do they speculate that no-one may have done it ?

Hello SonuKumar,

The sentence

The rope was so strong that no-one could have broken it

describes a hypothetical situation in the past and has an implied if-clause:

The rope was so strong that no-one could have broken it (even if they had tried)


The act of breaking is in the (hypothetical) past. If you wanted to talk about the present or future then you would use a different form:

The rope was so strong that no-one could break it (even if they tried)

Note that the first verb (was) does not change as, presumably, the sentence comes from a narrative.


Both of the other sentences describe ability (no-one was able to / anyone was able to).



The LearnEnglish Team