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Grammar 11 - Modals and their Meanings
"I WILL go to the movies!" - Will is a modal verb.

Grammar 11 - Modals and their Meanings

Every day of our lives we are confronted with decisions to be made. Our ability is questioned. Requests will be made. Permissions will be granted. We are flooded with unwanted suggestions or advice. We look at possibilities and probabilities. We offer to help people. We make predictions and we make promises and we make deductions. Sometimes we make recommendations and other times we ask questions. Sometimes we make our intentions clear and other times we look at the future. We send out invitations. We give our preferences. We also set conditions. How does the English language handle all these situations?

We have learnt the eight parts of speech, of which verbs are one. The basic type of verb is the main verb, but sometimes they alone cannot express all situations. In order to describe a variety of situations the English language makes use of helping verbs which are known as modal verbs or modals.

Since they are helping verbs, modals are always used with main verbs. There are 9 modals in all and these are: CAN, COULD, MAY, MIGHT, MUST, SHALL, SHOULD, WILL and WOULD. These are known as pure modals. Since there are only nine pure modals and in our lives we come across more than nine kinds of situations, each of the modals can be used to describe more than one situation. Looked at another way it is possible for a situation to be expressed by different modal verbs. For instance:

  • ‘He CAN do it’ is a sentence where CAN is used to expresses ability.
  • ‘CAN I go to the movies’ is a sentence where CAN is used to seek permission.
  • Here we see that CAN is used in two different situations. Now, look at these two sentences:
  • ‘I SHALL be flying to Mumbai on the 20th’ and
  • ‘I WILL be flying to Mumbai on the 20th’.
  • Here the future course of action is expressed by SHALL and WILL.

Learning to use modals can be rewarding to one who wants to be understood clearly. Take this quiz and see how much you know about modal verbs.

1.
In the sentence - "India WOULD have won the match if the batsmen were more watchful" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Advice.
Deduction.
Offer.
Conditional.
'Would' is expressing conditional situation. For advice 'should' is used; for deduction 'must' is used and for offer 'shall' is used
2.
In the sentence - "I WILL finish my assignment even if I have to stay late" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Intention.
Ability.
Advice.
Recommendation.
The intention is to finish even if it is late. For ability 'can' and 'could' are used; for advice 'should' is used and for recommendation 'should' is also used
3.
In the sentence - "I WILL have finished my homework by bedtime" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Future.
Ability.
Necessity.
Possibility.
An outcome is being expressed in the future. 'Will' is also used to express decision, intention and promise. For ability 'can' and 'could' are used; for necessity 'should' is used and for possibility 'might' is used
4.
In the sentence - "The principal is angry, I MUST NOT enter his office" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Decision.
Ability.
Offer.
Request.
The negative is formed by adding NOT after the verb. For instance, 'you SHALL NOT go to the movies' or 'You MAY NOT sit for the exam'. Remember that all modals except 'might' and 'may' when used with NOT can be contracted as 'couldn't', 'shouldn't' or 'can't'
5.
In the sentence - "She MAY encounter hardships while pursuing a truthful path" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Decision.
Question.
Probability.
Suggestion.
It is probable that hardships would be encountered. For decision 'shall' and 'will' are used; for question 'would' is used and for suggestion 'could', 'might', 'shall', 'will' and 'would' are used
6.
In the sentence - "I shall never venture out in the night again" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Conditional.
Ability.
Invitation.
Decision.
I decided not to venture out in the night. For conditional 'would' is used; for ability 'could' and 'can' are used and for invitation 'would' is used
7.
In the sentence - "The child CAN talk now" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Necessity.
Probability.
Invitation.
Ability.
'Can' here is expressing the ability of the child to talk. For necessity 'must' is used; for probability 'may' and 'might' are used and for invitation 'would' is used
8.
In the sentence - "You COULD miss practice today, but you need to be more regular" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Obligation.
Possibility.
Preference.
Question.
It is possible to miss practice if you are not regular. For obligation 'must' is used; for preference 'would' is used and for question 'shall' and 'would' are used
9.
In the sentence - "The visitors SHOULD be here soon" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Request.
Prediction.
Probability.
Conditional.
'Should' is predicting the arrival of the visitors. For request 'can', 'could' and 'may' are used; for probability 'may' is used and for conditional 'would' is used
10.
In the sentence - "Since all boys passed in distinction, Saurav MUST be a clever boy" - what does the modal verb indicate?
Permission
Request.
Deduction.
Prediction.
From knowing that all boys passing in distinction you deduce that Saurav is a clever boy. For permission and request 'can', 'could' and 'may' are used and for prediction 'should' and 'will' are used
Author:  V T Narendra

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