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Basic Modals

1. What are modals?

Modals are used to ‘moderate’ verbs (i.e. they change the meaning).
After a modal, the basic form of the verb is used.

ModalModal + verb
canI can run.
couldIt could fly.
shouldWe should go.
mayYou may start.
mightErin might come.
mustThe company must change.
willFrance will win this game.
wouldI would go if I had money.

2. What the modals mean

Each modal gives the verb a new meaning.

ModalMeaningShort exampleLong example
true1. I hear music.
2. I pay taxes.
1. Shh. Wait. I hear music.
2. Each April I pay my taxes.
can1. fact
2. ability
1. I can hear music.
2. I can pay taxes
1. Quiet. I think I can hear music. We must be close.
2. I can only pay my taxes after I get paid.
should1. to not do so is unusual
2. the right thing to do
1. I should hear music.
2. I should pay taxes
1. Now, if all these cables are right, and I press play, I should hear music.
2. I know I should pay my taxes, but I don’t agree with how the money is being spent.
may1. possible
2. am thinking about it
1. I may hear music.
2. I may pay taxes
1. If you stop talking, I may hear the music.
2. I may pay taxes, but I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll just run away.
might1. possible
2. am thinking about it
1. I might hear music.
2. I might pay taxes
1. If you stop talking, I might hear the music.
2. I might pay taxes, but I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll just run away.
must1. if I don’t, I will be unhappy
2. have no choice
1. I must hear music.
2. I must pay my taxes
1. Everyone is talking about their new album. I must hear it!
2. The government says I must pay my taxes.
will1. 100% sure
2. future
1. I will hear music.
2. I will pay my taxes
1. If you turn the CD player on, I‘ll hear music.
2. I‘ll pay my taxes after I get paid.
would1. cause and effect
2. if I could
1. I would hear music.
2. I would pay my taxes
1. I would hear more music if I had a radio.
2. I would pay my taxes if I had the money, but I don’t.

3. Using modals to be polite

Using modals make questions more polite.

The modals for polite questions are:
can, may, might, would

Not politePolite
Get me a cheeseburger!Can you get me a cheeseburger?
Could you get me a cheeseburger?
Would you get me a cheeseburger?
I want to borrow your car.Can I borrow your car?
Might I borrow your car?
May I borrow your car?
Give me all your money.Can you give me all your money?
Might you give me all your money?
Would you give me all your money?

4. Exercises

1. Make a sentence using each of the basic modals.

2. Make polite questions using the basic modals.Modals are used to ‘moderate’ verbs (i.e. they change the meaning). After a modal, the basic form of the verb is used.

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