The Modals in English Grammar
- A) Can and Could as ‘Possibility’ & ‘Ability’.
The most important meaning of Can and Could is ‘to be
He can walk thirty Miles a day.
We can play tennis.
She cannot play tennis.
When she was young, she could swim across the lake.
- B) Can and Could as Permission:
Ravindra can’t smoke here, but he can smoke in the garden.
Ravi could I leave right now.
- C) Can/could be used in polite requests, orders & suggestions.
Can she make a cup of coffee, please?
Can you come here a minute.
Could you please tell me how to get to Main Street?
- D) Could and Can be used in sentences expressing wishes.
I wish I could visit Delhi.
I wish I could have helped you.
- E) Could and Can be used in either the main clause or the
subordinate clause of a statement expressing a false or
If he were a stronger, he could help us push the car out
of the snow.
She could have caught the bus if she had left in time.
I would be glad if I could help you.
- F) In informal English, Can is often used with the meaning to be allowed to.
He says I can take the day off.
Can I have some more soup?
Note: may in such situations is more correct.
He says I may take the day off.
Normally, we use can when we make present decisions
about future ability.
Can you help me with my homework? (Present)
We are busy today. But we can help you tomorrow. (Future)
Could + have + past participle
When the speaker had the opportunity to do something, but you are not sure he did it. You can also use it when the action was possible but you are not sure if it really happened.
After dinner, I felt really sick. It could have been the fish. It tasted a little strange.
MAY and MIGHT
MAY is used to express possibility:
It may rain today.
It might rain today.
May, Might: to be allowed to.
The members of the organization agree that I may join it.
The members of the organization agreed that I might join it.
The auxiliary must is a stronger form of May and Might.
You must provide proper identification in order to cash a
They must work harder if they are to succeed.
- c) It should be noted that the meaning of ‘Must not’ is to be obliged not to.
You must not leave.
He must not speak.
In order to express the idea of not being obliged to do
something, an expression such as not to be obliged to or
not to have to is generally used.
You do not have to leave. =You may stay, if you wish
He is not obliged to speak. =He may be silent, if he wishes.
Note: The auxiliaries Could, Might can be used
To express differing degrees
Raj might have taken the money, but it seems unlikely.
It is possible he may have called while we were out.
It must have rained last night, because the streets are wet.
- d) Thus, Might expresses the highest degree of politeness.
Might I observe what you are doing?
Might I offer some advice?
- e) May, Might and Must used to express probability:
somewhat probable: may, might
highly probable: must
He must be mistaken.
You might be right.
It may snow later this afternoon
- f) May, Might and Must used to express Affirmative:
Eg. She may go to the cinema.
They might go to the cinema.
She may not go to the cinema.
They might not go to the cinema.
Must (subjective obligation): Often use must to say that
something is essential or necessary,
Note: Like all auxiliary verbs, must, CANNOT be followed
by ‘to’. So, we say: I must go now.
I must go home.
You must visit us.
Must express personal obligation.
It is sometimes possible to use ‘must’ for strong obligation,
But generally we use ‘have to’ for this.
Eg. I must stop smoking.
He must work harder.
Must express degrees of certainty
She must have gone to the party.
Can use ‘Must’ to talk about Present or Future.
Eg. I must go now. (present)
I must call my mother tomorrow. (future)
Visitors must not smoke. (present)
I mustn’t forget Tara’s birthday. (future)
Must not/Mustn’t: We use must not to say that
something is not permitted or allowed, for example:
Eg. I mustn’t forget my keys.
Students must not be late.
I mustn’t eat so much sugar. (subjective)
You mustn’t watch so much television. (subjective)
Students must not leave bicycles here. (objective)
Policemen must not drink on duty. (objective)
The Modals in English Grammar
Perfect Modals are used to talk about the past and what was advisable in the past.
Modal + have + past participle
I should have cooked more burgers. Now we don’t have enough.
Sam must have gone to the beach yesterday. He has a sunburn today.
She might have left her keys on the table, but she’s not sure.
They could have driven their car, but they decided to walk instead.
Must + have + past participle
When you are almost certain that the action happened. Based on facts or current situation, you conclude that the action happened.
Ravi looks really tired today. He must have gone to bed late last night.
Might + have + past participle
When the action was possible, but you are not sure it happened- the same meaning as
may have, could have + past participle
Eg: We would like to see that house.
I would like to buy a gift for my wife.
Eg: The boy would have his own way.
My father would not lie.
Eg: Raj said that he would help me.
She said that she would give me the book.
Eg: They wouldn’t answer my questions.
The child wouldn’t listen to his father.
Eg: Would you please lend me your book?
Would you help me to lift this table?
Would + have + past participle Had he met me, I would have told him everything. Had you heard my lecture, you would have spoken better. When the action did not happen (conditional) The young couple would have purchased the house if it had had two bathrooms The negative form would not have + past participle is used when the action actually happened, but it would not have happened if something else occurred first. The pie would not have tasted so sweet if I had added the correct amount of sugar.
Should have + past participle
When the action did not happen and someone is sorry (regrets) that the action did not happen.
I failed the test. I should have studied last night.
My stomach hurts! I shouldn’t have eaten those four doughnuts.
There are social modals that express suggestions, expectations, obligations, and so on.
You should have called your wife.
I should have informed him.
Duty or Obligation
We should help the needy.
You should go to school in time.
Disapproval, Possibility, Condition
We shouldn’t have laughed at his mistakes.
We shouldn’t have given the child a knife to play with.
Purpose Introduced by ‘in order that and so that’.
We put the fence So that our neighbours should not overlook us.
We did it in order that all should be satisfied.
You should not (shouldn’t) eat too much.
We ought to exercise every day.
Kriti should have called your wife
It should be sunny on the weekend.
He should arrive before dinner.
She is tired. she ought to sleep well tonight.
Should and Ought to: Advice Probability and Moral obligation
We ought to thank them.
We should be happy.
A good mother ought to love her children.
Affirmative: Subject + Should/ Ought to + infinitive of verb
We should/ought to see the doctor.
They should/ought to go to a movie.
We used to play football.
He used to teach us Hindi
He is used to dealing with many people at same time
She dare not touch my book. (Action not done)
He dare not speak to me in this manner. (Action not done)
How dare she speaks to me rudely? (Action carried out
You need not come tomorrow.
She need not bring the book tomorrow.
You need come tomorrow.
You need bring the book tomorrow.
Need I come to class today?
Need he to come to class today?
She might have come to the house.
You should have stayed in bed.
You were supposed to be here at 9:00.
are used to emphasize action in progress in the present or the future
modal + be + verb + ing
You must be joking
She must be working now.
Perfect Progressive modals
are used to emphasize action in progress in the past.
modal + have + been + verb
He must have been sleeping when the fire broke out.