Grammar lesson: Figuring things out – modals for deduction

Watch a recording of our live event to support our learners studying grammar: Figuring things out – modals for deduction.


12 March 2024

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In this live lesson there will be an introduction to the topic of figuring things out using modals for deduction. Then, you can listen to a short grammar explanation and practise using the grammar yourself.


Average: 4.8 (6 votes)

Submitted by User_1 on Mon, 18/03/2024 - 09:14


Hello Jo,
Thanks for your lesson.
About possible but not sure deductions, I have a doubt.

Could you please check these two sentences related to a future possibility?

Do they belong to the same category of uncertain deductions?

I have ever wondered if I would have ever been to the USA.
I have ever wondered if I could have ever been to the USA.

Are they both grammatically correct?

Thanks for your help.

Hello User_1,

I'm afraid these sentences are not correct.

The main reason is that the verb forms in the second clause seem to refer to an imaginary past, which I think is not what you mean. Assuming that you are referring to the future, I'd recommend 'will ever visit the USA' or 'will ever be able to visit the USA'. 

We very often use 'will' or a present form in a clause after 'wonder' -- some other examples are 'I wonder what she'll think about my new laptop' or 'I wonder what they are doing right now'.

After the verb 'wonder', if we use 'would', it's typically part of a second conditional structure to talk about imaginary situations, e.g. 'I wonder what would happen if I changed jobs'. You could also use 'could', e.g. 'I wonder if he could do it'. 

One other thing: we don't normally use 'ever' to mean 'always', which is I'm guessing what you mean in the first clause. In other words, the correct form for the first clause is 'I have always wondered'.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
LearnEnglish team

Hello Kirk,

Thanks for your corrections and help.

So instead of improving, am I going backwards?
I would like to receive your answer.
Thanks a lot

Hello User_1,

No, I think what's happening is that you're going forward! You're pushing your language envelope, which means you are trying new structures. It's natural to make some mistakes when doing that, and in fact you can learn much more from mistakes than not making them.

Keep up the good work!

Best wishes,
LearnEnglish team

Kirk, thanks for your encouragement.
It seems to have more doubts than before.
For example, could you tell me if these structures are correct? 
They refer to a probable, not certain, future time:

If I become an astronaut, I could explore the universe.
If I become an astronaut, I will be able to explore the universe.

Is the first clause "if" correct?

Thanks a lot!

Hello User_1,

I don't think you having more doubts is a bad sign either. It probably shows that you are more and more perceptive about how the language works, which is another sign that you are learning. It's a bit like the statement 'I know that I know nothing' that Plato attributed to Socrates. I understand that it can be unnerving!

Sentence 1 is possible, but sentence 2 is more natural. 2 is a first conditional that refers to a future that you regard as possible. Perhaps, for example, you're finishing your university studies and are thinking about what direction to go after you graduate. If one of the directions is pilot training, then you might use this first conditional structure because even though becoming an astronaut is only possible after some years, you are on a clear path in that direction.

In 1, it would be more common to use 'became', which would make it a clear second conditional. In that case, it would talk about a possible situation, but one that is more remote somehow. In this case, you could be a teenager who is thinking about one possible direction for your future. Since you still have several years left of studies in secondary school and university to do before anything else -- and perhaps by then you'll have decided to go in another direction -- the possibility of becoming an astronaut is remote.

All the best,
LearnEnglish team