Modals with 'have'

Learn about using have with modal verbs to refer back in time, and do the exercises to practise using it.

Level: intermediate

We can use a modal verb with have and a past participle:

Subject Modal have Past participle  
They will have arrived by now.
You might have seen the film.
Jack and Jill would have been late.

We use a modal verb with have:

  • to refer back from the present:

It's nearly eight o'clock. They will have arrived by now.

  • to refer back from a point of time in the past:

We were very worried. We thought someone might have taken the car.

  • to refer back from a point of time in the future:

We won't eat until they arrive. They might not have had supper.

  • to refer to past time:

You should have helped her when she asked.
They might have got lost. Nobody knows where they are.

Modal verbs with have 1

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Modal verbs with have 2

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Submitted by g-ssan on Wed, 05/10/2022 - 19:55

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Hello sir ,
Have I ever graduated. Does it have meaning ?

Hello g-ssan,

The sentence is grammatically fine - a present perfect verb form to refer to all of your life up to now - but it does not really make sense. After all, you are asking about yourself, so unless the question is rhetorical there is no reason to ask. You already know about your own experience!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Faii on Fri, 22/07/2022 - 06:40

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A:You could have posted my letter when you went out.
B:No,I couldn't post it. I was busy .
Or No,I couldn't have posted it .I was busy.
Which one should we use here ?

Hi Faii,

The first answer ("I couldn't post it") is the correct one. Person A says "could have" because A's idea is that it was possible for B to post the letter, even though B didn't actually do it. "Could have" expresses this idea (for more examples, see Macmillan Dictionary). Person B, however, thinks that it was NOT possible because he/she was too busy. That's why B replies using "couldn't" (not "couldn't have"). Person B is simply talking about his/her inability to post the letter.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Faii on Thu, 14/07/2022 - 09:44

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If the flight was on time ,he should have arrived in Jakarta early this morning .

Why did they use should here ?Can we use here 'Would' ?

Hello Faii,

As I said in my answer to your other question, 'should have' in this use describes the speaker's expectation. It's not clear whether or not the speaker knows if the other person arrived on time. 'Would have arrived' is possible too but I think it suggests more scepticism on the part of the speaker. In other words, 'would have arrived' tells me that the speaker knows or suspects that the other person did not arrive. It's not certain, but that is the way I would understand it absent of any other context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Faii,

'Should have arrived' describes a past action: the action of arriving is in the past.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Faii on Thu, 14/07/2022 - 08:25

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Could you please tell me what is the difference between these sentences?
She should have arrived by now.
She will have arrived by now .
She should be here by now.

Hello Faii,

The first two sentences are similar. The speaker is talking about his or her expectation (this is what I expect). 'Will' is a little stronger, in the sense of more confident, than 'should. Of course, these are expectations, so the speaker does not know if the other person has arrived or not.

The third sentence is different. In this sentence the speaker knows the other person has not arrived and is saying that this is unexpected. A person who is waiting for a friend might say this when their friend is late, for example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mussorie on Mon, 03/05/2021 - 12:03

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Please explain the difference between the two sentences. 1.What would I miss if I choose something over something? 2.What could I miss if I choose something over something? Maybe this is weird, but could you explain why we don't use "we could like to" instead of "we would like to". Please explain the difference between could and would in a simple manner.

Hello Mussorie,

As with all modal verbs, context is key to the meaning.

In general, would suggests an imagined choice, option or likely result; could describes possibility. For example:

I would go to the party - my choice or decision, if I were in a position to choose.

I could go to the party - it is possible for me to go.

Since like is a personal preference, it is logical that we use would like to (option/choice) rather than could like to (possibility).

 

In your sentences, would describes the likely or certain result, while could describes a possible but not certain result. You would miss the meeting is sure, if the condition is fulfilled. You could miss the meeting is not certain, even if the condition is fulfilled; it may depend on other factors.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nuro on Tue, 26/01/2021 - 13:45

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Hi, while I was searching new words, I realised something. For example; "Several branches of the bank have recently opened up across China." Why we didn't use passive here? Obviously branches didn't open itself;somebody opened ? Or If there is a rule, I have not known about information about the rule yet. Can you say the tip please?

Hi Nuro,

Yes, we could use a passive here too: several brances of the bank have recently been opened up ... The meaning is the same, but the passive highlights the role of people more in this activity (opening up branches).

For open and some other verbs, we can put the thing as the subject (even though, logically speaking, you might think that a thing like a branch of a bank cannot act by itself). These verbs are called ergative verbs and you can find more explanations and examples here. I hope it helps :)

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Tue, 19/01/2021 - 10:20

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Hello. Are the three following sentences correct? If so, what are the differences in meaning. 1- I really must lose some weight. My clothes hardly fit me anymore. 2- I really have to lose some weight. My clothes hardly fit me anymore. 3- I really need to lose some weight. My clothes hardly fit me anymore. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

All three are correct (well done!) and in general they all mean the same thing.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Typically grammars say that 'must' is used for internal obligations and 'have to' is used for external ones. This is a good guideline, but I'm not sure it always holds up, and in any case it's sometimes difficult to distinguish between external and internal. For example, to my mind, all of the sentences you wrote could express internal motivation. On the other hand, I'd probably not use the first one to express external obligation -- but then again, I almost never use the modal verb 'must', so it may have more to do with that than anything else.

I hope this helps. By the way, if there's a specific point you want to ask about, please mention it in your comment. We could often write much more in our explanations, but simply don't have the time to write comprehensive replies. We're happy to try to help with specific queries, but can't afford to make guesses.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nuro on Tue, 12/01/2021 - 07:09

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Hi team, "Everyone ___ have a birth certificate. However, you didn't have to have one until about 100 years ago." Teacher, I think blank is -has to- as rule.But answer key says -must-Is there a mistake?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 12/01/2021 - 08:29

In reply to by Nuro

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Hi Nuro,

Both forms are possible here. I don't believe this is a question from our site so you'd have to ask the author why the key allows only 'must'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AsahiYo20 on Fri, 04/09/2020 - 12:57

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--> We could have borrowed the money (= it would have been possible for us to borrow the money) -- Is "might have" possible? --> He might have called earlier, but I was not home. -- Does "could have" or "may have" have the same meaning in this context? --> The criminal might not have been caught, had you not sounded the alarm. -- I understand that "could not have" is not possible here because it would mean impossibility. How about "may not"? Thank you in advance teachers!

Hello AsahiYo20,

You could use 'might have', but it would express probability (a guess) instead of possibility. As you note, 'could have' expresses that you had the possibility of borrowing it, but 'might have' would express the idea perhaps you would have borrowed it (if, for example, the circumstances had been different).

'may have' means the same thing as 'might have' here. 'could have' can also be used to make guesses about the past, and thus could also be used here, but most of the time we use 'might have' or 'may have' to do this.

Yes, 'could not have' would express impossibility here. 'may not' would mean the same as 'might have'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sunyoung1005 on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 18:43

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Hi Sir, The decision could not have been easy. They could not have guessed what was going to happen. He can’t have done it deliberately. In the sentences above, are "could" and "can" interchangeable? Thanks.

Submitted by AkiraTa05 on Sun, 16/08/2020 - 06:37

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Q1: Whether both "cannot have +p.p." and "could not have +p.p." are the opposite of must have +p.p.? In other words, whether either of them can be used when the speaker is sure that something did not happen? Q2: In making a guess about something that happened in the past without knowing that whether it was true or not, are "might have + p.p." and "could have +p.p." interchangeable. In other words, could "could" in the following two sentences be replaced with "might"? He could have got stuck in traffic. He could have forgotten that we were meeting today. Thanks in advance for answering my questions:)

Hi AkiraTa05,

Good questions. I'll try to answer below.

Q1: yes! Both can't have and couldn't have are the opposite of must have, for the meaning of deduction.

Q2: yes. You could replace could with might in those sentences.

You might like to have a look at this page, for more examples: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/modals-deductions-about-the-past

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sunyoung1005 on Sat, 15/08/2020 - 06:22

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Hello What is the difference between will have + p.p. and must have + p.p.? Are they interchangeable in the following sentences? You must have been delighted when you head you had won the lottery Dear Sir, You will recently have received a form We sent the invitations on Monday, so they will have received them by now Thanks in advance.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 15/08/2020 - 07:44

In reply to by Sunyoung1005

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Hello Sunyoung1005,

Will have is an expression of belief. Must have is similar, but it is generally used when we have evidence of some kind (including past experience) which causes us to form an expectation. Must have carries a sense that the speaker would be surprised if things were not as he or she expects.

 

I think you could use will have in the first sentence, though must have is better as it carries the sense of I would be amazed if not.

Must have does not work in the second sentence as the context suggests that the writer sent the form. You could use must have if there were a time reference so the speaker could express an expectation that the time has been sufficient.

Must have is possible in the third sentence for the reasons above.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your detailed and prompt reply! I have a feeling that "must" conveys the idea of conclusion and is often used in explanations, whereas "will" is more about assumption or expectation. That is why I think it would be better to say "Dear Sir, You will recently have received a form", which gives a sense that the sender is assuming that the recipient of this email has received a form, rather than drawing a conclusion from some evidence. Similarly, for "We sent the invitations on Monday, so they will have received them by now". If "must" were used instead, it would convey a slightly different meaning, conveying a sense that the speaker has some evidence to support his conclusion. Is my understanding of the difference correct? Thanks teacher.

Hello Sunyoung1005,

Yes, that's right.

With the second sentence, must is possible because the evidence could be a knowledge of how the postal service works, but will is also fine.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ysl_cherry on Tue, 19/05/2020 - 09:31

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It seems rather strange that in order for me to access the below materialthis page I need to be logged in. If I don't, it doesn't show the content at all indicating it is a broken link. Please see to this. The rest of the materials are not like that. They can be accessed without login. Please see if this can be fixed as I do find it inconvenient.

Hello ysl_cherry,

I believe this was a temporary problem and should now be fixed. I have checked on my computer and am able to access the site without logging in.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rsb on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 10:17

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Sir, May have/might have +verb 3rd form is used for guesses/possibility in the past. Suppose, "Sachin might/may have left the country" here point of time is in the past. If I say, Sachin may/might have left the country by tomorrow evening. Here point of time is in the future. So can we use this structure "may/might have +V3rd form for guesses/possibility in the future? More example Train may have left tomorrow. He might have gone to Delhi tomorrow.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 06/05/2020 - 07:23

In reply to by Rsb

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Hello Rsb,

It is possible to use perfect modal verbs with future reference when we are looking back from a point further in the future. The future perfect (will have + verb3) is an example of this:

By 2100, we will already have built undersea cities for millions of people.

May/might can replace will to make the prediction less certain:

By 2100, we may already have built undersea cities for millions of people.

 

We can also use the perfect modal (may/might have + verb3) to express a counter-factual with an if-clause (or implied if-clause).

For example, imagine we are talking on Wednesday. I plan to meet my friend on Thursday. However, there is an earthquake and all travel is cancelled. In that situation I might say this:

If there hadn't been an earthquake, I might have met my friend tomorrow,

(would, could and may are all also possible here)

 

As you can see, context is crucial.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by pipilica on Thu, 17/10/2019 - 19:37

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let us imagine an example. John is a good football player. in a certain match he did not play well as a result his team was overthrown shabbily. then the supporters discussed themselves.... 1. John should have played well. 2. John could have played well. 3. John would have played well. in this case; do the above-mentioned 3 sentences correct? specially the last one?

Hello pipilica,

All of the sentence are possible, but they have different meanings and implied if-clauses.

1. This is fine as it stands. It functions as a criticism of John's performance, which did not reach expectations. It suggests the speaker does not understand why John did not play well.

 

2. This sentence describes an alternative outcome which was possible but not certain. It implies an if-clause:

John could have played well if the tactics had been better / if he hadn't been sick / if he had been more motivated etc.

 

3. This sentence is similar to the second, but is more certain of its conclusion. It does not (like #2) tell us that an alternative was possible, but that the alternative was certain if the condition were met

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 27/07/2019 - 17:17

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Hello. Could you please help me? Is it correct to make deductions in the following way: - "In Egypt, the underground must have made travelling round Cairo easier." or this way: - "In Egypt, the underground must make travelling round Cairo easier." Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam

Both of those are correct and sound natural -- good work. The first sentence speaks about the past and the second one about the present.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alist123 on Thu, 11/07/2019 - 21:57

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Hello question in relative pronoun "when": time when we spent with the right person in this example "when" here is right or wrong is the word "time" refer to a time or it's just a word and can't put when?? I hope you replay thanks
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 12/07/2019 - 09:12

In reply to by alist123

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Hello alist123

We sometimes use the relative pronoun 'when' with words that express time (for example, 'day', 'week', 'hour', 'time', etc.), but often we do not. I would recommend 'time we spent' instead of 'time when we spent'.

You can read a little more about this in the last section on our Relative pronouns and relative clauses page.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Thu, 11/07/2019 - 18:40

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Dear Kirk sir, I asked you two questions regarding "should have", whether it is to be used in future. You explained "should have" is also used to talk about probability in future. But sir, kindly see the following questions and answers, here "would have" is used to show probability in future. As far as I know, "would have" is used in past contexts. Kindly enlighten me on it. Que:Will she have gone? Ans: No, she wouldn't have. Que: Will your brother have returned from Canada? Ans: No, he wouldn't have. Thank you.

Hello Aniyanmon

These replies don't sound correct to me. Perhaps there is some context in which it would make sense to reply with 'would have' here, but I can't think of one off the top of my head.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Thu, 11/07/2019 - 13:09

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Dear Sir, Kindly tell me whether the following uses of "should have" (in future is correct.) I should have completed the course by 2021. My sister should have arrived by next week. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 11/07/2019 - 16:19

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon

Yes, both of those sentences are grammatically correct.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Aniyanmon on Tue, 02/07/2019 - 13:15

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Dear Sir, I have seen the following question and answer in a spoken English book. Kindly tell me whether the answer of the question is correct. As far as I know "should have" is used as an advice. For example "You should have gone there". It is used in past situations. But in the following answer "should have" is used in a future situation. How is it possible sir?. So can I say now "today evening I should have left this place" (suppose now the time is 10 'o clock in the morning). Que:Will you have passed tenth class examination by the next year? Ans:Yes, I should have passed it by that time. Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 02/07/2019 - 18:15

In reply to by Aniyanmon

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Hello Aniyanmon

As is explained just before the first exercise above, a modal verb plus 'have' can be used to refer back from a time in the future. In the question and answer you cite from the book, that future time is 'by next year' (or 'by that time'). So it is correct here.

Note that in this case, 'should' is not giving advice -- it is used to talk about probability (see the Certainty section on that page for more examples).

Thanks for asking this question on a more appropriate page.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Serigne Bamba Gueye on Thu, 25/04/2019 - 01:16

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That's very interesting to teach people how to increase their English level and specially the modal verbs because it makes problem to students and difficult to master as well,fortunately these courses have clarified us what blocked us.Thank you for your help.

Submitted by Samavor on Wed, 13/02/2019 - 06:15

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Hello. I have a doubt. Can I use SHOULD HAVE with the third conditional? If I had been a teacher, I should have taught children many important things. Is this sentence correct? I am really looking forward to knowing about it.
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 13/02/2019 - 07:18

In reply to by Samavor

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Hello Samavor,

No, you cannot use should have with that meaning. As a concept, should describes something desirable or advisable, not something contingent on a counter-factual past. You could use a phrase like ...it would have been a good idea to... or ...it would have been sensible to...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hadi.khorand on Wed, 26/12/2018 - 09:11

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hello Can we use all of modals verb with have and the past participle? for example "S+can+have+P.P." and does it refer to past time?