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Modal verbs

Level: beginner

The modal verbs are: 

can
may
must
shall
will
could
might

should
would

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

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Comments

Hello Mina Mantzorou

We use many modal verbs quite often, so I would say that it's important to recognise them and know their main uses and meanings. It's probably better to concentrate on just a few modals at a time, as each one has different meanings and uses and it can take time to learn to really use them.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!1) i would have been late if mr Neal did not drive, 2) i am happy that you would come if i would let you cook dinner . are these sentence correct?
i think they might also make the same sense witten in the following way:

1) i wuold have been late if Mr Neal had not driven; 2) i am happy that you would come if i let you cook dinner.

Thanks.

Hello rosario70,

The first sentence is rather odd. If you use did not drive then you are taking about Mr. Neal's general ability (that he knows how to drive) rather than what he did in a particular case. Therefore had not driven (talking about what Mr. Neal did on one particular journey) makes more sense.

In the second sentence you should use if I let rather than if I would let. We very rarely use would or will in the if-clause of conditonal sentences.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

That's all right, now it's clear . Those ones also sounded strange to me and i had some doubt , even though i'd heard that in a american movie.

Thanks again.

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 Ahmed Imam,

The sentence describes an external obligation rather than something we impose on ourselves, so 'have to' is a more natural choice. However, the distinction between 'must' and 'have to' is a subtle one and I would not say that 'must' is wrong here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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