All kinds of modal auxiliary verbs (part 1)

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All kinds of modal auxiliary verbs (part 1)

Bài gửi by Admin on Tue Nov 03, 2009 12:25 am

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Modal auxiliary verbs: "Will, Shall, May & Might, Would, Can, Could, Must, Should, Ought to "
What are "modal auxiliary verbs"?

They are verbs which 'help' other verbs to express a meaning: it is important to realise that "modal verbs" have no meaning by themselves. A modal verb such as would has several varying functions; it can be used, for example, to help verbs express ideas about the past, the present and the future. It is therefore wrong to simply believe that "would is the past of will": it is many other things.

A few basic grammatical rules applying to modal verbs

Modal verbs are NEVER used with other auxiliary verbs such as do, does, did etc. The negative is formed simply by adding "not" after the verb; questions are formed by inversion of the verb and subject:

You should not do that.

Could you pick me up when I've finished?

Modal verbs NEVER change form: you can never add an "-s" or "-ed", for example.

Modal verbs are NEVER followed by to, with the exception of ought to.

What sort of meanings do modals give to other verbs?

The meaning are usually connected with ideas of DOUBT, CERTAINTY, POSSIBILITY and PROBABILITY, OBLIGATION and PERMISSION (or lack of these). You will see that they are not used to talk about things that definitely exist, or events that definitely happened. These meanings are sometimes divided into two groups:

DEGREES OF CERTAINTY: certainty; probability; possibility; impossibility

OBLIGATION/FREEDOM TO ACT: permission,lack of permission; ability; obligation.

Let's look at each modal verb separately, and the functions they help to express:

1. Will

Making personal predictions

I don't think the Queen will ever abdicate.

I doubt if I'll stay here much longer.

Talking about the present with certainty (making deductions)

I'm sure you will understand that there is nothing the Department can do

There's a letter for you. It'll be from the bank: they said they'd be writing.

Talking about the future with certainty

I won't be in the office until 11; I've got a meeting.

Don't bother ringing: they'll have left for their 10 o'clock lecture.

Talking about the past with certainty

I'm sure you will have noticed that attendance has fallen sharply.

Reassuring someone

Don't worry! You'll settle down quickly, I'm sure.

It'll be all right! You won't have to speak by yourself.

Making a decision

For the main course I'll have grilled tuna.

I'm very tired. I think I'll stay at home tonight.

Making a semi-formal request

Will you open the window, please? It's very hot in here.

Sign this, will you?

Offering to do something

You stay there! I'll fetch the drinks.

Insistence; habitual behaviour

I'm not surprised you don't know what to do! You will keep talking in class.

Damn! My car won't start. I'll have to call the garage.

Making a promise or a threat

You can count on me! I'll be there at 8 o'clock sharp.

If you don't finish your dinner off, you'll go straight to bed!

2. Shall

Shall is a form of will, used mostly in the first person. Its use, however, is decreasing, and in any case in spoken English it would be contracted to "-ll" and be indistinguishable from will.

The only time you do need to use it is in questions, when:

Making offers

Shall I fetch you another glass of wine?

Making suggestions

Shall we go to the cinema tonight?

May & Might

May & might sometimes have virtually the same meaning; they are used to talk about possibilities in the past, present or future. ("Could" is also sometimes used).

May is sometimes a little bit "more sure" (50% chance); whereas might expresses more doubt (maybe only a 30% chance).

May & might are used, then, for:

Talking about the present or future with uncertainty

She may be back in her office: the lecture finished ten minutes ago.

I may go shopping tonight, I haven't decided yet.

England might win the World Cup, you never know.

Talking about the past with uncertainty

I'm surprised he failed. I suppose he might have been ill on the day of the exam.

They can also sometimes be used for talking about permission, but usually only in formal situations. Instead of saying May I open a window? we would say Is it all right/OK if I open a window? or Can I open a window? for example. You might, however, see:

Students may not borrow equipment without written permission.

3. May

Talking about things that can happen in certain situations

If the monitors are used in poorly lit places, some users may experience headaches.

Each nurse may be responsible for up to twenty patients.

With a similar meaning to although

The experiment may have been a success, but there is still a lot of work to be done. (= Although it was a success, there is still ...)

4. Might

Saying that something was possible, but did not actually happen

You saw me standing at the bus stop! You might have stopped and given me a lift!

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