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Basic Modals

Modal auxiliary verbs are used to moderate the main verb, that is to enhance or restrict the verb to a certain context.

The most common modal auxiliaries in English are:

can
could
may
should
might
will
must
would

Notice the usage of modals in the following sentences:

David pay his taxes.

 

General declaration of fact. Paying taxes is something David normally do.

David can pay my taxes.

 

Expresses ability. David have the means (funds) to pay.

I might pay my taxes.

 

Expresses possibility, but not certainty. Maybe I will pay; maybe I won't.

I will pay my taxes.

 

Expresses future intent. I resolve to do it at some later time.

I should pay my taxes.

 

Expresses mild obligation. It is required, and I expect to comply.

I could pay my taxes.

 

Expresses possibility. If I have nothing else to do with the money, I might pay taxes.

I would pay my taxes.

 

(In this case), expresses reservation. If I had the money (but I don't). . .

I must pay my taxes.

 

Expresses strong obligation. I am required and have to comply.

Modals are followed by only the base form of the verb and are not used alone unless there is a clear connection to a main verb.

He must to finish his homework.

He must finish his homework.

Jack could heard the bell.

Jack could hear the bell.

Penny will going to the movie.

Penny will go to the movie.

  WRONG

RIGHT

WRONG

RIGHT

WRONG

RIGHT

There are many ways to make requests in English. The most common involves using the imperative and modals. See the examples below:

Using the Imperative

The imperative is the simple form of the verb. The
subject of an imperative sentence is understood as "you" although it is usually not spoken.

Open the window.

Will you help me?

Pick up your English books.

Please help me.

 

(You) open the window.

Yes, I will (help you).

(You) pick up your English books.

(You) please help me.

The imperative is often used by persons of authority when speaking to subordinates, e.g. parent to child.

Using Modals

To show respect and politeness, most people use modal
expressions when making requests. For example:

Will you...?

Would you...?

Would you please...?

Could you (please)...?

Could you possibly...?

Would you kindly...?

Would you mind (Ving )...?

Would you be so kind as to...?

 

Will you open the window for me?

Would you open the window for me?

Would you please open the window (for me)?

Could you (please)...? Could you (please) open the window?

Could you possibly open the window?

Would you kindly open the window?

Would you mind opening the window?

Would you be so kind as to open the window?

Common Problems with Modals

1. Using "to" unnecessarily:

Incorrect

They going to meet us at the theater.

Tom should to eat his Chinese food.

You had better to go now.

You must not to use my computer.

 

Correct

They are going to meet us at the theater.

Tom should eat his Chinese food.

You had better go now.

You must not use my computer.

2. Using anything but the base form after a modal:

David could heard the phone ring.

Lucy will going to the library.

 

David could hear the phone ring.

Lucy will go to the library.

3. Using double modals:

You should ought to speak English.

She might can help me.

 

You ought to speak English. /should speak

She might be able to help me.

4. Omitting "be" in certain modal expressions:

They going to meet us at the theater.

Jack supposed to take his medicine.

 

They are going to meet us at the theater.

Jack is supposed to take his medicine.

5. Using wrong word order in questions:

How I can help you?

Where I should go for the meeting?

 

How can I help you?

Where should I go for the meeting?

See also :

Grammar : Common Modal Usage

Vocabulary : Simple Modals

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