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MODAL AUXILIARIES

The modal auxiliaries (or modals) include the following: can, could, may, might, must, should, will, would.

Modals are always followed by the base form of a verb or auxiliary verb.

Modals are always the same form no matter what the subject is.

In standard American English, a predicate verb phrase cannot contain more than one modal. Correct He will be able to go. Not correct He will can go.

Below are example sentences containing the modal may and the verb go. Notice that the form of the modal does not change. Also notice that the base form of a verb or auxiliary verb always follows the modal.

I may go. You may go. He may go. It may go. We may go. They may go.

He may have gone. They may have gone. He may be going. They may be going. He may have been going. They may have been going.

Modals and related verb phrases add meanings to verbs.

Ability/Availability future: will be able to present: can, am/is/are able to past: could, was/were able to .

Requests present/future: can, could, will, would .

Permission future: will be allowed to present/future: may, can, could, am/is/are allowed to past: could, was/were allowed to

Possibility present/future: may, might, could past: may have, might have, could have

Impossibility present/future: couldn t, can t past: couldn t have

Advisability present/future: should, ought to, had better past: should have, ought to have, had better have

Expectation present/future: should, ought to past: should have, ought to have

Necessity future: will have to present/future: must, have to, has to past: had to

Lack of Necessity future: won t have to present/future: don t have to, doesn t have to past: didn t have to

Prohibition present/future: must not, may not, cannot past: could not

Logical Deduction (=Probability) present: must, have to, has to past: must have, have to have, has to have

SOCIAL MODALS The choice of modal depends partly on the social situation. We often use formal language with strangers (people we don t know) and superiors (people with some power over us such as our employers, doctors, and teachers).

We often use informal language with our equals (our friends and family) and subordinates (people we have some power over such as our employees or children).General requests (present and/or future): Will you help me? (Informal Are you willing?) Would you help me (Formal Are you willing?) Can you help me? (Informal Are you able?) Could you help me (Formal Are you able?)

Requests for permission (present and/or future): May I leave the room? (Formal) Might I leave the room? (Formal rarely used) Could I leave the room? (Less formal Can I leave the room? (Informal)

Expressing suggestions, advice, warnings, necessity (present and/or future): The choice of modal depends partly on the urgency of the message or the authority of the speaker/writer or both.

Suggestions: You could see the doctor. You might see the doctor. Advice: You should see the doctor. You ought to see the doctor.

Warning/strong advice: You had better see the doctor. Strong advice/necessity: You have to see the doctor. You have got to see the doctor. You must see the doctor. No choice:You will see the doctor.

MODALS OF BELIEF (beliefs about present time) The choice of modal depends partly on what the speaker or writer believes.

Someone is knocking at the door. That could be Fred. That might be Fred. = It s possible. I m less than 50% sure. That may be Fred. = It s possible. I m less than 60% sure.

That should be Fred. That ought to be Fred. = I m expecting Fred and I think he s here. That must be Fred. That has to be Fred. That has got to be Fred. = It s probably Fred. I have a good reason to believe it is Fred. That will be Fred.

That will be Fred. = I believe it is Fred. I m about 99% sure. That can t be Mary. That couldn t be Mary. = It s impossible. I m about 99% sure. That is Fred. = I know it s Fred. I m 100% sure.

MODALS OF BELIEF (beliefs about past time) The choice of modal depends partly on what the speaker or writer believes.

Someone was knocking at the door. That could have been Fred. That might have been Fred. = It s possible. I m less than 50% sure. That may have been Fred. = It s possible. I m less than 60% sure.

That must have been Fred. That has to have been Fred. That has got to have been Fred. = It was probably Fred. I have a good reason to believe it was Fred. That couldn t have been Mary. = It s impossible. I m about 99% sure. That was Fred. = I know it was Fred. I m 100% sure.

MODALS OF BELIEF (beliefs about future time) The choice of modal depends partly on what the speaker or writer believes.

What will the weather be like tomorrow? It could rain tomorrow. It might rain tomorrow. = It s possible. I m less than 50% sure. It may rain tomorrow. = It s possible. I m less than 60% sure. It should rain tomorrow. It ought to rain tomorrow. = I expect it will rain.

It will rain tomorrow. = I believe it is going to rain. I m about 99% sure. It couldn t snow tomorrow. = It s impossible. I m about 99% sure.

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