This is the second of five High English grammar quizzes on the topic of modals. This quiz focusses in particular on modal verbs expressing possibility.
In the previous quiz we looked at the grammar of modals describing attitudes and functions, and we employed almost all the modals in forming sentences. We found that ‘may’ is a modal that is often used to describe possibility. In addition to ‘may’, ‘could’, ‘might’ and ‘must’ are also used in expressing possibility. For instance, if we were watching a trapeze artist perform in a circus we could use some different modals to describe the action. Here are some examples of how we might voice our thoughts and concerns using four different modal verbs:
‘He could fall any time.’
‘He may fall any time.’
‘He might fall any time.’
‘This time he must fall.’
These four examples have used the four modals that denote possibility. In all of the examples there is no certainty that the artist will fall. However, all of them denote a possibility that the artist may fall.
It is difficult to say clearly when we must use a particular modal but here are some guidelines:
The use of ‘could’ is for meeting a condition.
The use of ‘may’ is for situations where a simple probability exists or when permission is required.
The use of ‘might’ is also for meeting a condition.
The use of ‘must’ connotes some compulsion, order, or advice.
Besides denoting possibility each of the modals denote other functions. ‘Could’ is the past form of ‘can’ and ‘might’ is the past form of ‘may.’ The use of ‘could’ is for denoting ability just as with ‘can.’ The use of ‘can’ is for denoting ability in the present and future whereas ‘could’ is for denoting ability in the past.
The use of a particular modal is not as straightforward as that of other verbs and it can be a matter of choice. However, some amount of practice would definitely help. Take the grammar quiz that follows and learn more about modal verbs expressing possibility.