Modal verbs

» Modal verbs




Can 11

may 18

we can compare may and can 24

must 25

must and may compared 28

to have to 29

to be to 31

must to have to and to be to compared 32

ought to 34

Shall and should 35

shall 35

should 36

must should and ought to compared 41

Should + perfect infinitive ought to + perfect infinitive and was/were to + perfect infinitive compared 41

will 42

need 47

dare 48

Shouldnt + Perfect Infinitive oughtnt to + Perfect Infinitive and neednt + Perfect Infinitive compared 49

Final conclusion 50



Modality is expression of speakers attitude to what his utterance denotes.

The speakers judgment may be of different kinds that is the speaker may express various modal meanings. Modal verbs unlike other verbs do not denote actions or states but only show the attitude of the speaker towards the action expressed by the infinitive in combination with which they form compound modal predicates. These modal verbs may show that the action (or state of process or quality) is viewed by the speaker as possible obligatory doubtful certain permissible advisable requested prohibited ordered etc. Modal verbs occur only with the infinitive. This or that meaning is to a great degree determined by communicative type of the sentence and the form of the infinitive. That is a huge problem for foreign learners of English who make a great deal of mistakes in this field. So the aim of my work is to show how modal verbs can be used in what case we need one or other verb and why.

English modality can be expressed not only by modal verbs. Modality can be expressed by different linguistic means. In actual speech all forms expressing modality work together to make the meaning clear. But in every case there is some leading form that expresses the main attitude. These forms fall into four categories: phonetic (intonation) grammatical (mood) lexico-grammatical (modal verbs) lexical (modal words and phrases). But the most important from them is the third form which includes modal verbs. It is important to take into account one more feature peculiar to modal verbs. They all show that a certain action is represented as necessary doubtful etc. From the point of view of the speake there are verbs which help other verbs to express a meaning: it is important to realize that modal verbs have no meaning by themselves/ A modal verb such as would has several varying functions; it can be used for example to help verbs express ideas about the past the present and the future. It is therefore wrong to simply believe that would is the past of will: it is many other things.

English modality can be expressed not only by modal verbs. There are many ways to express it generally Mood shows the relation between the action expressed by the predicate verb and reality. The speaker establishes this relation.

In present-day English the category of mood is made up by a set of forms opposed to each other in presenting the event described as a real fact a problematic action of as something unreal that does not exist.

Actions represented as real facts are expressed by the Indicative Mood.

E.g. Architects have done some very good work too in designing new schools. Many of these are prefabricated which means that as much of the building work as possible if done not on the building site but in factories where mass production methods are used.

When the brothers had gone home Mr. Waterfall announced that they were a much pleasanter pair of young men than the had been led to believe.

The Indicative mood is characterized by a great number of tense-aspect-phase forms that may be used in the Active or in the Passive Voice. It should be stressed that the use of the Indicative Mood does not always mean that the action expressed by the predicate verb is true to fact that it actually takes (or took or will take) place in reality. When the speaker uses the Indicative Mood he merely represents an action as a fact but he maybe mistaken or even telling a lie.

E.g. Ive seen to it he said but everyone knew it was not true.

Commands and requests which are problematic actions are expressed by the Imperative Mood.

The Imperative Mood is the plain stem of the verb (e.g. Come over here. Listen to him etc.). It may be used in the affirmative and in the negative form The negative form is an analytical form built up by means of the plain stem of the auxiliary verb to do followed by not (dont) and the infinitive of the notional verb without to (e.g. Dont go over there. Dont listen to him etc.). The negative form of the verb to be is also built up by means of the auxiliary verb to do (e.g. Dont be inquisitive. Dont be a fool etc.).

If we wish to make a command or request more expressive we use the emphatic form. Its also an analytical form built up with the help of the plain stem of the auxiliary verb to do which is placed before the notional verb including to be (e.g. Do come over here. Do listen to him. Do be quiet etc.).

A command or request is generally addressed to the second person singular or plural. There is usually no need to mention the subject of the action before the verb in the Imperative mood. But occasionally the verb may be preceded by you in familiar style (e.g. You dont worry.).

A command or request may be addressed to the first person plural. It is also formed with the help of the plain stem of the verb to let followed by the pronoun us (the contracted form is lets) and the infinitive of the notional verb. This form is actually an invitation to a joint action (e.g. Lets have a cup of tea. Lets do it together etc.).

Actions represented as unreal are in present-day English express by a variety of forms.

Among them there is a mood form the conditional Mood.

The fact that there are a number of forms engaged in expressing unreal actions could be explained historically.

In the older periods English used to be a synthetic language and had special forms that served to express unreal actions the so-called Subjunctive mood. It was built up synthetically by means of inflections. As a result of loss of inflections the difference between the forms of the Indicative Mood and the Subjunctive Mood has in most cases disappeared. The place of the old Subjunctive Mood was in a number of cases taken up by analytical forms and modal phrases i.e. combinations of modal verbs with the infinitive. It is this historical process that accounts for the great variety of different forms expressing unreality in modern English.

As some of the forms expressing problematic or unreal actions are modal phrases it is necessary before describing the different forms of unreality to treat modal verbs first.

The speakers attitude towards the action if the sentence may be expressed in different ways:

1)  By one of the mood forms that serve to show whether the action is represented as a real fact of as problematic or unreal this form of expression is found in every sentence because it is indispensable to predication.

2)  By modal verbs which represent an action as necessary or unnecessary possible or impossible certain of doubtful and the like. But modal verbs need not be used in every sentence and are therefore to be regarded as an additional means of expressing the speakers attitude towards the action in the sentence.

3)  By attitudinal adverbs such as certainly perhaps probably luckily unfortunately etc. They express different degrees of certainty on the part of the speaker of the desirability of the action from his point of view.

Modal Verbs

We find the following modal verbs in English: can may must ought shall should will need and dare. Besides to have and to be in some of their uses are also classed among modal verbs. A modal verb in combination with the infinitive forms a modal compound predicate.

Modal verbs are defective verbs since they lack many forms characteristic of regular verbs: they have no s in the third person singular in the present tense and no verbal so they have no analytical forms; some of them lack the form of the past tense.

Modal verbs have the following peculiarities:

1)  they are followed by the infinitive without the particle to (with the exception of ought to have and to be);

2)  their interrogative and negative forms are built up without the auxiliary do.

Most of the verbs have more than one meaning. Each of their meanings is characterized by a specific usage.

1)  Some of the meanings may be found in all kinds of sentences; others occur only in affirmative of interrogative or negative sentences;

2)  Different meanings may be associated with different forms of the infinitive simple and perfect (both in the active and passive forms) continuous and perfect continuous;

3)  If the modal verbs have more than one form (can could may might will would also the verbs to have and to be) their different meanings are not necessarily found in all those forms.

The use of modal verbs is in most cases independent of the structure of the sentence: the use of this of that modal verb is determined by the attitude of the speaker towards the facts contained in the sentence. In this case we may speak of the free or independent use of modal verbs.


E. g. He admires you. He thinks youre a little beauty. Perhaps I oughtnt to have told you that.

He may be in the hall now waiting for me.

But sometimes the use of certain modal verbs depends on the structure of the sentence mainly on the type of the subordinate clause and occasionally also on the lexical character of the predicate verb in the principal clause. This may be called the structurally dependent use of modal verbs.

E. g. It is obviously necessary that an investigation should be made.

Christine feared she might not be met at all.

When the use of modal verbs is structurally dependent their meaning is sometimes weakened; in fact it may be quite vague. This may be accounted for by the fact that these verbs become rather part of the structure than bearers of individual meaning.

It is important to take into account one more feature peculiar to modal verbs. They all show that a certain action is represented as necessary possible desirable doubtful etc. from the point of view of the speaker. Consequently modal verbs are generally used in conversation. In past-time contexts they may be found only in reported speech or thought Thus You should have done it before or He might be wrong or It must be true cannot be possibly found in narration unless they are used after He thought that He said that He knew that etc.

The only exceptions are the past tense forms could would had was and might which may be used only in conversation but also in narration.

E. g. Walker was illiterate and could not sign his name.

When I looked at her I saw tears in her eyes. So I had to tell her the truth.

We cant but mention that modal verbs are of common usage in literature both American and English. In this work several examples taken from the works of famous American and English writers of the 18-19th centuries such as I. Asimov O. Henry S. Maugham F. Scott Fitzgerald A. Christie O. Wilde M. Spark and others can vividly show you their usage and importance in speech. We guess itll be necessary to provide you with some examples on their usage from different newspapers and analyze them thoroughly.


The modal verb can has the following forms: can the present tense (e.g. He can speak English) and could the past tense. The form could is used in two ways: a) in past-time contexts as a form of the Indicative Mood (e.g. He could speak English when he was a child) b) in present-time contexts to express unreality or as a milder and more polite form of can or as a form implying more uncertainty than can (e.g. He could speak English if necessary. Could I help you? Could it be true?). Compare with the Russian : (unreality). ? (politeness). ? (uncertainty).

Can has the following meanings:

1)  ability capability

E.g. I can imagine how angry he is.

We can represent a figure of a three-dimensional solid.

This meaning may also be expressed by to be able . The phrase can be used in all tense-forms if necessary.

In the meaning of ability and capability can occurs in all kinds of sentences.

E.g. Right and left we can go backward and forward freely enough and men always have done so. You can move about in all directions of Space but you cannot move about in Time.

In this case can is followed by the simple infinitive and reference is made to the present. But depending on the context it may also refer to the future.

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