Please note: I am still working on this page...


Go back


full page

can / could

The speaker says that something is possible or impossible because of the law, physical or mental ability, logic or science, custom or morality... or a combination of these.

For a table of examples with remote forms, click here .
To see tables of the frequency of words used with "could" , click here.


Go back
 


Go back

full page

may / might

&
... for possibility.More subjective than "can/could"

It may/might (not) rain

It may/might (not) be raining

It may/might (not) have rained

It may/might (not) have been raining

&
... for permission. The speaker gives permission, ...or refuses it

You may (not) sit here.

(might is not used here, it is too remote)



... can/could or will/would are much more frequent for possibility;
but for permission...

May we leave now?

May I have another piece of your delicious cake?

... are natural.

The remote form is very formal...

Might I ask your name?

Might I see you next week?

... and, well, remote!



Go back


 



Go back
 
full page

must

Subjective view of the idea of necessity = I say it is necessary that...

&

I must see you ( I need to see you)

She must be in the office ( ...this is logical, necessarily true)

She must be in the office by 9:00 (... that's the rule)


You mustn't tell anyone (... it is necessary not to tell anyone)

It must have been very hot! (...it is logical that it was hot)


&

Must is a modal verb. It is subjective, and

"I must go" is very similar to " I have to go"

.. but "I mustn't go" = I say it is necessary not to go
"I don't have to go" = it is not necessary to go

"Do you have to go?" is not subjective, but tentative and...

...to talk about the past
or other remote more objective
attitudes "have to/had to" is used, so ...

" I had to go " = it was necessary
" I didn't have to go" = it was not necessary
" Did you have to go?" = was it necessary?



Go back


 
full page
shall / should
With "will" , the speaker says that something is inevitable,
with "shall" there is more of the speaker's personal involvement.

&
You shall be there at 6:30 ( I order you )

We shall not warn you again (... that is a promise)

Shall we go out?


For "should" Lewis (LTP) gives 5 distinct groups:

1

" If he should be late..."/"Should he be late..." = If he is late...


"Should you not contact us..." = If you do not contact us...



2

"You should watch that video" = I think you will enjoy it
"You should have taken a taxi" = ...but you did not take a taxi


"You should not watch so much TV" = I recommend you do not watch so much
"You should not have eaten that fish" = It was a bad idea


3
"We suggest that passengers should carry only 5kg" = It is best if...


4


"I should think he's in Paris" = In my estimation
he is there



"You shouldn't have any problems" = I don't think you will...


5

How should I know? = Don't ask me
!



Go back
 
full page

 will / would
The graphic below shows how the modal verb goes together with other auxiliary and main verbs, and it also shows the approximate frequency of these combinations with " would".


• " would " is the most frequent modal verb ( BNC )

• " will " is also very common, but it has another written form ( -'ll) and a great range of attitude and meaning depending on intonation and stress in speech.

GRAMMAR + VOCABULARY + CONTEXT = MEANING

"Context" includes the relationship between the speaker or listener, writer or reader.

For example, there is a form called "future perfect" or "future anterior" which is usually presented to learners as a " completed action in the future", predicted by the speaker.
But...
• a medical expert, interviewed by a journalist about a recently successful operation to separate conjoined twins said " It will have been a very difficult procedure".

• a press officer, talking about the latest photographs of a train accident : " You will have seen the photos of the damage ..."

• a teacher, writing on a web page :" Most students of English will have learned that "will" is "the future form in English"

...these forms are frequent, a search of the BNC with the term " will + have + vbn " will give examples of the form with past, current and future references. They use "will " to emphasise that they are giving an opinion about current and past fact.


Most common uses are for
an offer:- " I'll help you " / "I'll make some coffee"


• a promise or a threat. You decide which, depending on the situation:- " I'll see you tomorrow" / " I will always love you" / " You will never see me again" / " It will be a cold day in hell before I help you again!"

• negotiation:- " I'll pay you an extra 3% if you can deliver on Friday" / " For an extra 5% I'll deliver it tomorrow"

prediction- science/ astrology/ fortune telling:- " There will be rain tomorrow in the west and north" / "Capricorns will have a good year"


a speaker's view of habit/liklihood:- "He'll be at home in bed now" / " She'll be working all next week"

"-'ll"- relaxed future marker ( what is any view of the future, if not an opinion?) Mixed in with any other prospective language forms e.g. be + -ing , be going to , first form verbs which may be independent of any modal. Find your own examples.

• restaurant/ shopping:- "I'll have fish" / " I'll take it"

authority/announcement :- " The Court will rise" / " You will not use your computer for playing games" / " The Queen will not visit Margate this year"

It's wrong to ignore the social and personal implications of these uses. And there can be a crossover between the above areas. Check with a search on the BNC or with the COBUILD corpus. As noted above, a search for any of the modal perfect forms (a modal + have) will throw up some interesting results, and that's a promise.










• " would" is the remote form of " will"...






Go back