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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

I was to have left on Thursday. But on Thursday I had a terrible cold so I decided to wait till Saturday.

In the above example, can I use "had to" in place of *was to have left"

Hello amol,

In terms of grammar, you can say 'I was to have left' or 'I had to leave', but the meaning is slightly different.

'I was to have left' means the same as 'I was supposed to leave'. It describes a plan or intention which was not completed.

'I had to leave' describes an obligation. It suggests that something made it necessary for you to leave. This may have been something you know in advance or something which surprised you.

There is a problem with the sense of the second sentence, however. 'I had to leave' suggests you had no choice, but the second part of the sentence makes it clear that you did have a choice, because a cold was enough to change your mind. This would appear to be contradictory.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,
while asking a question to someone
for future, should we use 'Wll'or
'Going To' ?

When will you buy a car or when are
you going to buy a car and
when will you come or go or when
are you going to come or go ?

Hello SonuKumar,

Both are possible.

There are many ways of talking about future time. If we are asking about a person's intention or plan then 'going to' is appropriate. If we are asking about a decision made at the moment of speaking then 'will' is more likely.

You can read about future forms on our page on the topic.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Please tell me, when I do exercises how I drag the words into the answer box if there is more than one word?

Hello Amaavee,

Moving items is done by clicking rather than dragging. Click once on the item and then click again on the box where you wish it to go. If you click on an item already in the box you will swap it for the new item; if you click on the box itself you will add the item.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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