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Summary of Functions of Modal Verbs
Date 07/07/2009 18:23  Author detail  Hits 4791  Language Global

Summary of Functions of Modal Verbs


He can speak Turkish
She’s able to make people laugh.

He could/was able to speak Turkish.
(repeated action- ability in the past)
We were able to go on a three-moth tour of Australia. (single action)


He can stil be at work. (90% certain)
She could be angry. (50% certain; it is possible she is angry.)
Susan may be teaching. (50% certain, it’s possible that she is teaching.)
You might need to come tomorrow. (40% certain, perhaps you need to come tomorrow)
It is likely that Sue will give up working.
Sue is likely to give up working.

We could have had an accident. (luckily we didn't)
John may have broken that vase. (perhaps he did it)
Jane might have lost our telephone number. (perhaps she has lost it)

It was likely that she taken the last train.
She was likely to have taken the last train.


They will be in Spain tomorrow. (100% certain, prediction)
We should see him there. (90% certain, future only; it’s probable)
She ought to be in Canada by now. (90% ceratin, she will probably be in Canada)

He should have finished by now.
(He has probably finished)
They ought to have started the course by now. (They have probably started the course.)
logical assumptions

He must be exhausted. (90% certain-positive; I’m sure he’s exhausted)
She can’t be serious. (negative; I’m sure she’s not serious)
They couldn’t be on holiday. (negative; I don’t think they are on holiday.)

He must have won the pools. (positive; I'm sure he has won the pools.)
She can't have married Ted. (negative I'm sure she didn't marry Ted)
They couldn't have been friends. (negative; I don't think they were friends)

You can/can’t have a party. (giving or refusing permission; informal)
Could I be excused? (more polite; asking for permission)
You may be excused. (formal; giving permission)
Might I bring a friend to the wedding? (more formal; asking for permission)
I'm afraid you can't/mustn't have visitors. (informal, refusing permission)
Guests may not smoke in their rooms.
(formal; refusing permission-written noitce)

He wasn't allowed to/couldn't board the plane.
He was allowed to see the patient. (not:could)




I must return these books soon. (I say so)

She has to find a new job. (necessity coming from outside the speaker)
They've got to sell their caravan. (informal)
The plants need watering. or The plants need to be watered. (It is necessary)
She doesn't have to/ doesn't need to/ needn't leave when they do. (it isn't necessary-absence of necessity)
We ought to reply to the invitation. (It is necessary)

I had to return the books to the library. (It was obliged to)
She had to find a new job after she was dismissed)
They had to sell their caravan
The plants needed watering. or The plants needed to be watered. (It was necessary)
She didn't have to/didn't need to work as hard as me. (It wasn't necessary for her to work as hard as me and she didn't. -absence of necessity)
She needn't have got a taxi. (It wasn't necessary for her to get a taxi but she did.
advice You should try to make more of an effort. (general advice; I advise you)
You ought to keep to the speed limit.
(I advise you, most people believe this)
You had better not keep her waiting. (It's not a good idea; advice on a specific situation)
Shall I apply for the job? (asking for advice)
You should have paid more attention.
(but you didn't)
She ought to have reserved a table.
(but she didn't)
It would have been better if you hadn't kept her waiting. (but you did)
criticism She could at least wait until 5 o'clock.
They should warn us.
You ought to be more polite to her.
She could at least have waited until 5 o'clock.
They should have warned us. (but they didn't)
You ought to have been more polite to her. (It was the right thing to do, but you didn't do it.
obligation I must get more exercise. (I need to; I say so)
I have to get more exercise. (I'm obliged to; the doctor says so)
We ought to give more money to charity. (It's the right thing to do, but we don't always do it.
I had to get more exercise because I was unfit.
I had to get more exercise because I was unfit.
We ought to have given more money to charity. (It was the right thing to do but we didn't do it.)
requests Can I use your phone? (informal)
Could I use your phone? (polite)
May I make a phone call, please? (formal)
Might I borrow your pen? (very formal)
Will you give me a hand? (very friendly)
Would you mind hepling me? (polite)
offers Can I/we do anything to help? (informal)
Shall I/we help you tidy up? (informal)
Would you like me to do it for you?
suggestions Shall we stop for a drink?
I/we can always leave early.
We could eat out tonight if you want
He could have asked for advice.
prohibition You can't wear jeans at work. (you aren't allowed to)
You mustn't walk on the grass. (It's forbidden)
You may not talk during the test. (formal)
They couldn't wear jeans at work. (they weren't allowed to)

duty All members must follow the rules.
People ought to live in peace. (It's the right thing to do, but people don't always do it.
All members had to follow the rules.
She ought to have treated us more fairly.
(It was the right thing to do but she didn't do it)
Lan Anh
Thank you for your detailed & useful summary Smile
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