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. Some of my colleagues, teachers of English, say that in the following sentence, "must" is wrong and they use "have to", or "need to". Please, which one is correct?
In England, most people must work until they are 67.
Thank you.

Hello. Can you please help me construct a sentence in following situation -
I have been invited to an event in the future (2 weeks from now). I didn't immediately rsvp because I didn't know if I was going to be in town on that date. Now I know that I am in town so I write to the person who invited me the following - Sorry for the delay in getting back. But there was a possibility that I could have been out of town on that weekend but not anymore. So I will attend the event.
Is the use of modal verb could have been - correct? Normally modal verb + have is only used for past possibility whereas here I am trying to communicate that there was something possible in the future but not anymore. Greatly appreciate your response.

Hello autumn

I'd say 'Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. There was a chance I was going to be out of town that weekend, but now I know I will be here. I would love to attend.' Maybe I've been too enthusastic at the end by saying 'I would love to attend' but you can change that to what you suggested.

You are right about 'could have'. Here it's a case of the future in the past (see the section called The future in the past on this page). We often use 'would' here, and you could say 'would' instead of 'was going to', but that's what came first to mind. There's no real difference in meaning between 'would' and 'was going to' in this case.

I hope you enjoy attending the event!

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

would you please clarify it what is the difference between:
1. Why does she park her car over there?
2. Why would she park her car over there?
3. It would be a sin!
4. It must be a sin!

Yet, how could the meaning of the below be expressed in other words? I never can't get it what would and could mean in this case. Please, give me a hand!)

"Well, they would start off with an introduction. They could have, the main body would be a set of findings, various findings would be then split in terms of split headings."
Best regards, Oleg

Hello Oleg

There can be some variation depending on the specific context, but in general, 1 is a factual, neutral question whereas 2 implies that the speaker thinks that it's unusual for the woman to be parking her car where it is. Perhaps it's very far away for no obvious reason, for example, or in a place where it could be easily damaged (e.g. next to a river in a strong rainstorm). The conditional form has this sense because it's speaking about an actual action as if it were imaginary -- this implies that the speaker can't imagine any good reason for the actual action.

3 seems to speak about a hypothetical situation as well, i.e. something that hasn't yet been done but is being considered. It's hard for me to interpret 4 without knowing the context, but what comes to mind is someone commenting on an action that's already taken place and thinking it was not the right action.

The paragraph sounds like a suggestion on how to structure a piece of writing. It uses 'would' and 'could' to speak about one way the hypothetical text will be written -- I say 'hypothetical' because it hasn't yet been written, at this point we are just imagining one form the text could have.

Hope this helps.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

And to be more precise about...
1.I am not surprised (NOW) that you said that. If it is correct, can 'said' be referred to the moment or a few minutes before, or to distant past, say, to yesterday?

2.(If you had not known you would have to say that) Would I get it right implying that the main clause refers to NOW, i.e. you have to say that now even if you had not known.

Many thanks for your time and patience.)
Best regards, Oleg

Hello Oleg

In 1, 'said' just refers to some finished past time. As you say, it could be only minutes or even moments ago, or it could be years ago. 

I can't think of a context when 2 would refer to now. The past perfect form 'had not known' in an 'if' clause makes the clause refer to an unreal or imagined past time, i.e. it refers to a situation that did not happen, and the other clause it goes with needs to have 'would' or 'would have' in it since the other refers to a hypothetical event.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Still, Kirk, please, consider this:)

You would have to say/do that.

Do you agree the above could mean:
1.Trust you to say that. (now or future)
2.I'm not surprised you said that.(past) (If you had not known you would have to say that)
3.It's something you would typically say. (now or future)

I am sorry for not specifying what situations could be examined.)

Best regards, Oleg

Thanks you very much, Kirk, for clearing everything for me. ) I am not very confident you would like to know what I want to say to you, but nevertheless, in Russian when we use a construction for would which is "mog/la/li bi" we can refer it to any time, i.e. present past and future. And for this reason it has always been a problem for me to use would easily in every day speech the way it often sounds in films. So, thanks again!)
Best regards to you and to Spain, Oleg

I have learned a rule that states - Can refers to a theoretical possibility while may refers to future possibility.
Such as...
1.I think you can win the competition.
2.There can be cold at night so take your jacket.

May I tell... I think you may win competition.

What is the difference.
Thanks in advance.