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Grammar 52 - Modals - Present
"I cannot lift that suitcase by myself." - 'Cannot is a modal expressing a lack of ability.

Grammar 52 - Modals - Present

In the previous High English quiz, we learnt the rules of grammar to follow when using modal verbs in the past tense and found the form ‘modal + have + past participle’ is followed to construct sentences. In this quiz we will take a look at the grammar to use with modal verbs in the present tense.

When using modals in the present tense the general rule is that the modals precede the infinitives without ‘to.’ The present tense accommodates almost all the modals. Some modals express specific attitudes and functions:

MAY, MIGHT, COULD, and CANNOT express possibility.
COULD, CAN and MAY express request.
DO NOT HAVE TO and NEED NOT express no obligation.
SHOULD expresses advice.
CAN and BE ABLE TO express ability.
MUST, HAVE TO and CANNOT express obligation/prohibition.

Here are some examples:

‘Govinda drove non-stop for more than 6 hours.'
'He COULD be exhausted after such a long drive.'
'He MIGHT prefer to rest for some time.’

In these last two sentences the modals express possibility.

‘I CAN just say a few things in Tamil’ is a sentence where the modal expresses ability.
‘MAY I hold the baby for a few minutes please?’ is a sentence where the modal expresses request.
‘When you have children, you SHOULD NOT leave dangerous objects lying around’ is a sentence where the modal expresses advice.
‘All motorists MUST follow traffic rules strictly’ is a sentence where the modal expresses obligation.
’You MUST NOT expose children to the cold’ is a sentence where the modal expresses prohibition.

We notice that some of the expressions are not modals but they are similar to them in meaning and often interchanged with them. Modals are complex, not necessarily in terms of their usage or forms but in terms of what they communicate. For instance, a sentence describing a simple action such as ‘someone is coming’ can elicit the following responses:

'That will be my friend'
'That must be my friend'
'That should be my friend'
'That could be my friend'
'That might be my friend'
'That may be my friend.'

The responses have a high degree of probability with ‘will’ to a low degree of probability with ‘may’ and the other modals used fall in between these extremes.

If we practise using modal verbs it will help us to understand the grammar of modals and the quiz that follows helps you to do just that – practise.

1.
'MAY I borrow the book please?'
This sentence uses a modal in present tense. Choose the attitude expressed by the modal from the following options.
Possibility.
Advice.
Request.
Ability.
Clearly, the sentence is talking about a request or permission. The other options are not correct in the context of the sentence
2.
Choose the sentence using the modal in present tense NOT expressing obligation from the following options.
All ministers must report to the Prime Minister.
He must take his medicine three times a day.
All members of parliament can speak in the parliament with the permission of the speaker.
He must not stand in the sun for a long time.
This sentence expresses the ability of members of parliament to speak in the parliament. The other options express obligation of some sort
3.
Choose the sentence using the modal in present tense expressing ability from the following options.
Could you open the window please?
That cannot be the right answer.
You cannot go there!
I can recite 22 nursery rhymes.
The modal expresses the ability to recite 22 nursery rhymes. Option 1 expresses request/permission, option 2 expresses a logical deduction and option 3 expresses advice/prohibition
4.
Choose the sentence that does NOT contain a modal in present tense from the following options.
You should have heard the music.
They have to be less erratic.
You shouldn't have to work at night.
We have to take up the remaining work tomorrow.
This sentence is in the past tense. In the other options, we have used semi-modals, which do not contain the pure modals. 'Have to' is a semi-modal that helps to express necessity or obligation to do something. This has the form with 'to'
5.
Choose the sentence with the correct modal in present tense from the following options.
You must drink your cough syrup at once.
You must have drunk your cough syrup at once.
You had to drink your cough syrup.
You will have to drink your cough syrup at once.
Remember that modals in present tense precede the infinitive without 'to.' In option 2, the form 'modal + have + past participle' is followed, which is the form for past tense. In option 3, the sentence is without the modal but similar to a modal in meaning. In option 4, the sentence is in the future tense
6.
‘Hanif Mohammad was batting continuously for over 11 hours. He COULD be exhausted after such a long inning.'
The sentence uses a modal in present tense. Choose the attitude expressed by the modal from the following options.
Obligation.
Possibility.
Advice.
Prohibition.
It is likely that Hanif Mohammad would be exhausted. It is also likely that he may not be exhausted. The other options would be expressed by the modals must, should and cannot
7.
Choose the sentence using the modal in present tense expressing advice from the following options.
When you have a cold, you should not eat ice cream.
You should take your umbrella along with you today.
You should have taken your umbrella.
Both options 1 and 2 above are correct but option 3 is wrong.
Both sentences give advice, the first one in the negative form. Option 3 is a sentence with the modal in past tense
8.
Choose the sentence that contains a modal in present tense from the following options.
You ought to see a doctor.
You should see a doctor.
You should have seen a doctor.
Both 1 and 2 above are correct but option 3 is wrong.
These sentences are with a modal in the present tense. Note that option 1 has used 'ought to', which is a semi-modal. 'Ought to' is interchangeable with 'should' and helps to make a logical deduction or give advice. This has the form with 'to.' Option 3 is a sentence with a modal in the past tense
9.
Choose the sentence with the correct modal in present tense from the following options.
You may not have touched the radiator, it's too hot.
You should not have touched the radiator, it's too hot.
You must not have touched the radiator, it's too hot.
You must not touch the radiator, it's too hot.
Remember that modals in present tense precede the infinitive without 'to.' In addition, by adding 'not' we can use the negative form. In the other options, the form 'modal + have + past participle' is followed, which is the form for past tense
10.
Choose the sentence using the modal in present tense NOT expressing possibility from the following options.
It might take more than a week.
I can't lift that suitcase by myself.
They say it may rain now.
I may go to Chennai the day after tomorrow.
This sentence talks about the ability or lack of it to lift the suitcase. The other options all express possibility
Author:  V T Narendra

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