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BestWebIt English course

Modal verbs

Practice makes perfect.


The modal verbs are:

can    could     be able to   
may    might   
shall    should   
will    would   
have to

Modal verbs denote neither actions nor states,
we use modals to do things like talking about ability, asking permission, making requests and offers, and so on.

Modals have meaning:

I can swim.
He could read when he was five years old.
Could I take your pen?
She may come back.
May I use your phone?
You must translate the chapter before my sister comes.
You must not talk aloud in the reading-hall.
I have to get up the next morning at seven.
Do I have to take entrance examination?
You shall not do that.
Shall I turn on the lights for you?
You should be more attentive while driving.
I shouldn’t help her.
We will help you.
Would you like some coffee?

Exercise 1. Make sentences using modal verbs with next words.

Speak German,
Answer the question,
Solve the problem,
Help her,
Take your book,
Be more careful,
Keep silent,
Get up at six,
Learn poem by heart,
Work hard,
Open the window,
Water flowers,
Tell him the truth,
Take a taxi,
Make a report,
Invite him,
Be more attentive,
Know this,
Miss the train,
Stay here,
Translate the sentence,
Do this exercise,
Clean the room,
Carry the child,
Ring your up,
Have insulted her,
Come in Friday.

Modal verbs from Cambridge Grammar in Use

Must and have (got) to

When we say that it is NECESSARY to do something, we use must or have (got) to:

To get a cheap ticket, you must / have (got) to book in advance.

When we want to say that it will be necessary for someone to do something in the future, we use must, have (got) to, or will have to:

To get there on time, I must / have (got) to / will have to leave home by 8.30.

Have got to is less formal than the others, and is particularly common in spoken English.
We can often use need (to) with a similar meaning:

Before you buy a house, you need to / must / have (got) to consider all the costs.

Using have (got) to suggests that someone else or some outside circumstances or authority makes something necessary. We use must when the speaker decides it is necessary.

I have to see the head teacher, (...she has called me to her office)
I must see the head teacher. (...I want to discuss something with her)

We prefer have (got) to when we talk about a necessity that is characteristic of a person:

Ann has got to have at least eight hours' sleep a night.
She has to drink two cups of coffee in the morning before she feels really awake.

We normally use must, not have (got) to, when we CONCLUDE that something (has) happened or that something is true:

With that pile of papers on his desk, Tony must be wishing he'd never taken the job.
The hall's packed. There must be about 2,000 people at the meeting.

However, in informal speech, we can use have (got) to:

Look at all those penguins. There's got to be about a million of them!
You want to borrow more money from me? You've got to be joking!

When we give a negative conclusion we rarely use either must not or hasn't / haven't got to.
Instead, we use can't (cannot) or couldn't:

- I'm seeing Dr Evans next week. - That can't be right. He's on holiday then.
He wasn't there at the time. It couldn't have been his fault.

Must has no other forms than the present tense (no past tense, no participles, etc.) and in past tense sentences which say that it was necessary to do something, we use had to instead:

Bill's not here. He had to leave early.
The car broke down and we had to get a taxi.

To draw a conclusion about something in the past, we use must + have + past participle:

You must have been upset when you heard the news.
She must have played really well to win. I wish I'd seen the match.

Sometimes we can use either have to or have got to. However, we prefer have to with frequency adverbs such as always, never, normally, rarely, sometimes, etc.:

I often have to work at the weekend to get everything done.

With the past simple, we use had to, especially in questions and negative sentences:

When did you have to give the books back? {not When had you got to...)
We didn't have to wait too long for an answer, (not We hadn't got to...)

After contracted forms of have, has or had (e.g. I've, He's, It'd) we use got:

It's got to work this time, [not It's to work...)

In formal English we prefer have to rather than have got to.

Can, could and be able to: ability

Should and ought to

We can often use should or ought to with little difference in meaning when we talk about OBLIGATION and PROBABILITY.

- giving ADVICE or making a RECOMMENDATION:

- This soup is too salty! You should / ought to send it back.
- You'll catch cold if you go out like that. I think you should / ought to take a hat.

or saying what an outside authority recommends (although we prefer should in this case):

The manual says that the computer should be disconnected (= passive) from the mains before the cover is removed, (rather than ...ought to be disconnected...)

However, we use should (or would), not ought to, when we give advice with I:

- I should leave early tomorrow, if I were you. (or I would leave...; or I'd leave...)

talking about a RESPONSIBILITY or DUTY:

People should / ought to be warned (= passive) of the danger of swimming off this beach.
I should / ought to visit my parents more often.


saying that something is PROBABLY TRUE now or will probably be true in the future:

- Have we got any string? - There should / ought to be some in the kitchen drawer. (because that's where we always keep it)

- You should / ought to have received the report by now.
- I enjoyed her first novel, so the new one should / ought to be good.

We use should / ought to + have + past participle to talk about an obligation in the past. We often indicate some criticism or regret:

- He should / ought to have asked me before he took my bike. (I'm annoyed)
- We should / ought to have taken a taxi when it rained. (I'm sorry we didn't)

We also use should / ought to + have + past participle to talk about an expectation that something happened, has happened, or will happen:

If the flight was on time, he should / ought to have arrived in Jakarta early this morning.
The builders should / ought to have finished by the end of the week.

We can use had better instead of should / ought to, especially in spoken English, to say that we think it would be sensible or advisable to do something.

However, we don't use it to talk about the past or to make general comments:

If you're not well, you should / ought to ask Ann to go instead, (or ...you'd better ask...)
You should / ought to have caught a later train, (not You had better have...)
I don't think parents should / ought to give their children sweets, (not ...had better...)

When we make a logical conclusion from some situation or activity, we use must not should or ought to:

You must be mad if you think I'm going to lend you any more money.
It's the third time she's been skating this week - she must really enjoy it.

We can use (be) supposed to instead of should / ought to to talk about an obligation to do something. It is commonly used in spoken English to express less strong obligation:

I'm supposed to be there at 10.00.
The work was supposed to start last week.

We use (be) supposed to when we report what many people think is true:

Eating sweets is supposed to be bad for your teeth, (not ...should be bad for...)