Modal Verbs in English

Modal Verbs in English Language

TALKING ABOUT ABILITY:

CAN/COULD

We use CAN to say that something is possible or that somebody has the ability to do sth.

COULD– 1. use especially with see, hear,smell,taste,feel, remember,understand.

When we went into the house, we could smell burning.

  • She spoke ina a very low voice, but I could understand what she said.
  1. use to say that somebody had the general ability or permission to do sth.
    • My grandfather could speak several languages.
    • We were completely free. We could do what we wanted ( we were allowed to do..)
  1. we use could for general ability. But, if we are talking about what happened in a particular situation we use was/were able to ..or managed to… ( not could ).
  • The fire spread through the building quickly but everybody was able to escape or everybody managed to escape.
  • They didn’t want to come with us at first but we managed to persuade them or we were able to persuade them ( not could persuade )

Compare:

  • Jack was an excellent tennis player. He could beat anybody. ( =he had the general ability to beat anybody

but

  • Jack and Alf had a game of tennis yesterday. Alf played very well but in the end Jack managed to beat him or was able to beat him. = ( he managed to beat him in this particular game )

COULDN’T is possible in all situations.

 

TALKING ABOUT POSSIBILITY

COULD– 1. to talk about possible actions now or in the future ( esp. to make a suggestion.) CAN is also possible but you must use could not can when you don’t really mean what you say.

  • I’m so angry with him. I could kill him! ( not: ‘I can kill him’)
  1. to say that sth is possible now or in the future.
  • The phone is ringing. It could be Tim.
  • I don’t know when they’ll be here. They could arrive at any time.
  • Can is not possible in these examples ( not it can be Tim). In these sentences could is similar to might.
  • The phone is ringing. It might be Tim.

COULD (DO)

    • I’m so tired. I could sleep for a week. ( now)

COULD HAVE ( DONE )

(MOGAO/LA/LO)

    • I was so tired. I could have slept for a week. (past)

Could have ( done) –for things which were possible but didn’t happen.

MUST– to say that we feel sure sth is true:

    • You’ve been travelling all day. You must be tired. (Travelling is tiring and you’ve been travelling all day, so you must be tired)

CAN’T –to say that we feel sure sth is not possible.

    • You just had lunch. You can’t be hungry already. ( People are not normally hungry just after eating a meal- You’ve just eaten, so you can’t be hungry. )

PAST

For the past we use MUST HAVE (DONE) and CAN’T HAVE (DONE).

    • George is outside his friend’s house. He has rung the doorbell three times but nobody has answered. They must have gone out.

MAY/MIGHT

Use may/might to say that sth is a possibility.

    • It may be true or it might be true. ( perhaps it’s true )

MAY NOT/MIGHT NOT ( MIGHTN’T)
(MOŽDA NIJE/VEROVATNO NIJE)

    • It may not be true. ( perhaps it isn’t true)
    • I’m not sure whether I can lend you any money. I may not have enough. (perhaps I don’t have enough)

Sometimes COULD has a similar meaning to MAY/MIGHT

  • The phone’s ringing. It could be Tim ( it may/might be Tim )

but COULDN’T is different from MAY NOT and MIGHT NOT

  • She was too far away, so she couldn’t have seen you. ( it’s not possible that she saw you ).
  • I wonder why she didn’t say hello. She might not have seen you ( perhaps she didn’t see you)

MAY/ MIGHTto talk about possible actions or happenings in the future.

  • I haven’t decided yet where to spend my holidays. I may go to Ireland. (perhaps I will go to Ireland)

Ususally it doesn’t matter whether you use may/might

– I may/might go to Ireland. Use might not may when the situation is not real.

  • If I knew them better, I might invite them to dinner. ( The situation here is not real because I don’t know them very well, so I’m not going to invite them. May is not possible)

CONTINUOUS FORM: MAY / MIGHT BE –ING

Compare:

  • Don’t phone me at 8.30. I’ll be watching the football on TV.
  • Don’t phone at 8.30. I might be watching ( I may be watching) the football on TV.

MAY / MIGHT for possible plans

  • I’m going to Irland in July. (for sure)
  • I MAY BE GOING (or MIGHT BE GOING) to Irland in July. (possible)

MIGHT AS WELL / MAY AS WELL

  • We might as well do sth = We should do sth because there is nothing better to do and there is no reason not to do it.
  • You can also say MAY AS WELL

MUST / HAVE TOto say that is necessary to do sth. Sometimes it doesn’t matter which you use.

  • Oh, it’s later than I thought. – I must go / I have to go.

Differences

MUST – personal  . When we express our personal feelings.

  • You must do sth = I ( the speaker ) say it is necessary.
  • She’s really nice person. You must meet her. (= I say this is necessary)

MUSTto talk about present / future not past.

  • I must go now
  • We must go tomorrow. (not We must go yesterday)

HAVE TO – impersonal . For facts, not for our personal feelings.

  • You have to do sth-because of a rule or the situation.
  • You can’t turn right here. You have to turn left.

Compare :

  • I must get up early tomorrow. There are a lot of things I want to do.
  • I have to get up early tomorrow. I’m going away and my train leaves at 7.30.

HAVE TO – all forms:

  • I had to go to hospital.
  • Have you ever had to go to hospital?
  • I might have to go to hospital.

QUESTIONS / NEGATIVE SENTENCES with HAVE TO – use DO / DOES / DID

  • What do I have to do to get a driving licnce?
  • Why did you have to go to hospital?
  • Karen doesn’t have to work on Saturdays.

MUSTN’T ≠ DON’T HAVE TO

You mustn’t do sth= it’s necessary that you do not do it ( so don’t do it 

  • You must keep it a secret. You mustn’t tell anyone. (= don’t tell anyone)

You dont have to do sth = you don’t need to do it ( but you can if you want )

  • You can tell me if you want but you don’t have to tell me. ( = you don’t need to tell me)

NEEDN’T DO ≠ NEEDN’T HAVE ( DONE )

NEEDN’T DO= DON’T NEED TO DO=DON’T HAVE TO

  • That shirt isn’t dirty. You needn’t wash it.

I NEEDN’T HAVE DONE STH= I did sth but I know it wasn’t necessary.

  • Why did you wash that shirt! It wasn’t dirty. You needn’t have washed
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