Good morning, sir. I’d be pleased to know how we use modal verbs in sentences and what they express.
Well, please listen. We use modals with another verb. We use them to express ability, probability and possibility, permission, request, offers and
invitations, suggestions, obligations, predictions and simple future.
1. Modals “can” and “could” are used to express ability
(“Could” is the past tense form of “can”. It is used to talk about what someone or something was able to or allowed to do in the past.)
● I can swim like a fish. (= I am able to swim like a fish.)
● I could swim like a fish when I was a school boy. (= When I was a school boy I was able to swim like a fish. Now I am not able to swim like a fish.)
● My grandma can run fast. (= My grandma has the ability to run fast.)
● My grandma could cook fast when she was young. (= My grandma had the ability to cook fast when she was young but now she doesn’t have the ability.)
● What man can not computers can.
● Computers can help us learn faster and store information longer.
Do you understand?
Yes, sir. You have made modal verbs easy to understand.
Yuma:Thanks. Try making sentences using “can”and “could” yourself.
Lee:Yes, sir with pleasure.
● I can speak English fluently.
● I can drive a car over 400 kilometres non stop.
● My mom could climb trees when she was a teenager.
● My grandpa could assemble cars when he was in Germany.
2. “Can” and “could” are used to ask for help,too.
Yuma:Well done, Lee. You are smart for learning. Modals “can”and“could ”are used to ask somebody to help you.
● Mom, can you help me with the homework?(I have to hand in this homework today, mom.) ● Hello sir, can you help me across the street?(There’s heavy traffic.) ● Can you show me the road to the supermarket? ● Can you guide the students around the zoo?
“Could” is a more polite form of “can” when asking for help or permission.
● Excuse me, sir.Couldyou post this letter for me on your way to the office? (Of course I can.) ● Could I have one more glass of juice, please? (You can have as much as you need.) ● Could I park my car in front of your gate?(I’m sorry. I can’t allow it.) ● Could you help me open the window, please?(With pleasure.)
Lee: Thank you so much, sir. Could you explain the difference between possibility and probability and how we express them using modals.
Yuma: With pleasure. Listen, please.
Possibility is a fact that something might happen or be true but is not certain.
Probability is how likely something is to happen, the level of possibility of something happening or being true
Lee: When do we use ‘may’, ‘might’ and ‘could’, sir?
Yuma:We use may, might and could to say that something is possible, but not certain:
May is used to express possibility.
Example: What the minister says may or may not be true.
● Our team may well win the match. ● It’s rather a cloudy sky. It may rain soon. ● I may visit you tomorrow before I leave for New Zealand.
“Might” is used when showing that something is or was possible. (Might is the past simple form of the verb “may”).
● I gave my grandpa a mango as I thought he might like it. ● Very politely my grandpa asked me if he might have a guava instead. ● You might get to the party in time if you walk fast but I’m not so sure. ● These pills might cure you of corona if you take them regularly.
“Could” is used to express possibility, especially slight or uncertain possibility.
● The chief guest could arrive anytime now so we shall wait. ● Poverty could be alleviated if all of us take care of the needy neighbours. ● Migrant workers could face long delays as many trains services have been cancelled. ● Anything could happen as there’s no vaccine against covid-19 infection.
Lee: How do we ask for and give permission, sir, using modals?
Yuma: We use “can”, “could” and “may” to ask for and give permission to do something.
“Could” and “may” are more formal and polite than “can”.
With parents, friends, juniors...we generally use “can'' as we don’t have to be formal.
● Mom, can I go out and play with friends for some time? (You can have a good time with friends, dear.) ● Hi Sindu, can I use your oven for an hour? (It’s okay. You can use it.) ● Dad, can I use your laptop to check mails? (Of course you can.) ● Hi friends, can we leave here now? ( We can.)
With teachers, superiors, seniors...we usually use “could” and “may” to be more formal and polite. Can you make sentences using “could”?
Lee: Yes, sir. I can
● Could you explain the difference between an atom and a molecule, sir? (Well, I can explain it with examples. Please listen.) ● Hello mam, could you help me with the luggage? (With pleasure. Anything else can I do for you?) ● May I come in, sir? ( You can come in any time you like.) ● May I ask a question, mam? (Yes, you may ask any question.)
Yuma: We use “can’t” and “may not” to refuse permission to do something or for something.
● Can I use your mobile, dad? No, you can’t. I have to call my boss immediately. ● You can’t leave office until you finish all your work. ● Alcoholics and smokers may not enter here. ● Covid- 19 patients may not leave their homes until recovery.
Lee: How do we make requests using modals, sir?
Yuma: We use “could you” and “would you” to make a request. Could you and would you are polite ways of asking someone to do something for us.
● Could you wait for an hour, please? I’m busy at the moment. ● Could you get me a glass of water, please? I’m thirsty. ● Would you type one more letter for me, please? ● Would you give me a lift to the station, please?
(“Can you” and “will you” are less polite so we generally don’t use them when we need help from others.)
● Can you help me with the household chore? ● Can you get me a drink? ● Will you wait for an hour? ● Will you give me a lift to the station?
Lee: How do we make offers using modals, sir?
Yuma: We generally use “can I” and “shall I” to make offers.
● Can I help you with the household chore? ● Can I make tea for you? ● Shall I carry this bag for you? ● Shall I help you lift that box?
We sometimes make offers using “I can”, “I could” or “I will ”,too.
● I can water the garden for you if you like. ● I could guide you around the zoo. ● I’ll take your children to school along with my kids as you are busy. ● I’ll treat you and your family to dinner tonight.
Lee: What do we use “would you like to” for?
Yuma: We use “would you like to” when offering something or inviting someone.
● Would you like to share tea with us? ● Would you like to join us for dinner tomorrow? ● Would you like a glass of juice? ● Would you like to join our GuruKulam?
We use “You must”... or “We must” for polite invitations or encouragement.
● You must visit our new house this Sunday. ● You must try these mangoes. They are soft, sweet and juicy. ● You must watch our “Just for Fun” presentations. You will enjoy them ● You must listen to our Director’s talks. You will find him inspiring.
Lee:It’s quite interesting to listen to your class. Could you explain the other uses of “must”?
Yuma: It’s my pleasure. You are a smart listener so I enjoy teaching you. Listen, please.
➢ “Must” is used to show obligation, necessity or importance.
➢ “Must” expresses strong obligation and necessity:
● I must talk to you about the new project ● Seat belts must be worn even in the back of the car. ● There must be a minimum of two members of the company at the meeting. ● I’m tired. I must get some rest. ● All of us must wear face masks when we travel.
➢ We use “must” for emphasis, too.
● We must meet at least once a week. ● Social distancing is a must during the pandemic. ● I must say, you are an asset to our company. ● I must do some gardening today. ● I must admit, it was my fault.
Lee: When do we use ‘shall’ and ‘will’, sir?
Yuma: Well, it's an interesting question.
We use ‘shall’ and ‘will’ when the subject is ‘I’ or ‘we’ to talk about what is going to happen in the future. (In fact in modern English ‘shall’ is rarely used.)
● I will meet you at 10 o’clock. (or) I shall meet you at 10 o’ clock. ● We will arrive at the station at 4 o’clock. (or) We shall arrive at the station at 4 o’clock.
(In both cases the contracted form is ‘I’ll’/We’ll)
● I’ll call you the moment I’m ready.
We’ll have a potluck on the eve of the New Year.
And we normally use 'will' with 'you', 'he', 'she', 'it' and 'they'.
● You will receive a surprise gift on your birthday. ● He will be ready at 11 o’clock. ● She will meet you at the airport. ● It will rain in the afternoon.
● Grandpa will be seventy five next month. ● The train leaves on time, so we’ll be in time for the meeting. ● Will the doctor be at the clinic when we reach there? ● W H O says Covid-19 will stay for another two years. ● There will be more deaths if Covid-19 stays for another year. ● We’ll see you tomorrow.
‘Will’ is used to talk about willingness and promise.
● I’ll give you chocolate if you finish your homework. ● Dad will take us to the beach on Sunday. ● As you are smart for work you will be promoted to manager. ● We’ll help you with your preparation for the interview.
Lee: When do we use ‘would’ and ‘would rather’?
Yuma: Another interesting question. Thank you. Please listen.
We use ‘would’ to refer to the future in the past.
● My mom said she would work from home from Monday. ● The government knew people would vote against them if they opened wine shops. ● We realized it would be hard to get jobs if the pandemic continued. ● Putin said he would be President for another twenty five years.
‘Would rather’ is used to talk about preferences.
● I would rather teach my students online than in person until the corona season is over. ● I would rather you worked from home. ● We’d rather have the interview online than in person. ● We’d rather travel by train. We can’t fly.
Hi Lee! Hope you understand how modal verbs behave in sentences.
Lee: Thank you, sir. I feel confident about using modal verbs accurately.
Yuma: You are welcome, Lee. Anything more you’d like to clarify today?
Lee: Well, your class is very interesting. I really enjoy learning grammar as you have made it easier and clearer to understand. Could you tell me what I should do to improve my communication skills?
Yuma: Listen to standard speakers, speak to active listeners, family and friends importantly, read books and journals and start writing and making presentations.