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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




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.



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


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


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


The LearnEnglish Team

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.

Hello AminulIslam.,

In some contexts the difference between can and may is very slight. For example:

I think you can win the competition. [it is possible]

I think you can win the competition. [there is a chance of this]


The first sentence could mean 'it is possible because you are allowed to enter', a different meaning to the second sentence. But it could also mean 'it is possible because you are good enough', which is very similar to the second sentence. The context is key here.


The other sentence is not correct as it stands. We would say this:

It can be cold at night so take your jacket. [low temperatures are possible]

It may be cold at night so take your jacket. [there is a chance of low temperatures]



The LearnEnglish Team

You may know this.
You must know this.
I think these sentences may have different meanings depanding on the context can't they ?

In one context these sentense can mean that a person is saying on logical conclusions or bases that the other person probably knows this.

While in the other one they can mean that a person is suggesting or giving advice to the other person that they should definately know this or they can or could know it if they want to.

and I think sometimes to erase out this confussion we say something like "you may be aware of this or you must be knowing this" as these sentences have an only particuler meaning.

what is your take on this ?