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8.4: Modals

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    36323
  • Modal Auxiliaries

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    Modal auxiliaries are helping verbs that are used only with a main verb to help express mood.

    The following is the basic formula for using a modal auxiliary:

    Subject + modal auxiliary + main verb

    James may call.

    There are ten main modal auxiliaries in English.

    Table of Modal Auxiliaries

    Modal Auxiliary Use Modal Auxiliary + Main Verb

    can

    Expresses an ability

    or possibility

    I can lift this forty-pound box. (ability)

    We can embrace green sources of energy. (possibility)

    could

    Expresses an ability in the past;

    a present possibility;

    a past or future permission

    I could beat you at chess when we were kids. (past ability)

    We could bake a pie! (present possibility)

    Could we pick some flowers from the garden (future permission)

    may

    Expresses uncertain future action;

    permission;

    ask a yes-no question

    I may attend the concert. (uncertain future action)

    You may begin the exam. (permission)

    May I attend the concert (yes-no questions)

    might

    Expresses uncertain future action

    I might attend the concert (uncertain future action same as may)

    shall

    Expresses intended future action

    I shall go to the opera. (intended future action)

    should

    Expresses obligation;

    ask if an obligation exists

    I should mail my RSVP. (obligation, same as ought to)

    Should I call my mother? (asking if an obligation exists)

    will

    Expresses intended future action;

    ask a favor;

    ask for information

    I will get an A in this class. (intended future action)

    Will you buy me some chocolate? (favor)

    Will you be finished soon? (information)

    would

    States a preference;

    request a choice politely;

    explain an action;

    introduce habitual past actions

    I would like the steak, please. (preference)

    Would you like to have breakfast in bed? (request a choice politely)

    I would go with you if I didn't have to babysit tonight. (explain an action)

    He would write to me every week when we were dating. (habitual past action)

    must

    Expresses obligation

    We must be on time for class. (ought to)

    Expresses obligation I ought to mail my RSVP. (obligation, same as may)

    PastedImage_f99gwmbmwm5hbrqrsqh63i9k23ih5xzq001293088478.pngUse the following format to form a yes-no question with a modal auxiliary:

    Modal auxiliary + subject + main verb

    Should I drive?

    Common Errors

    Be aware of these four common errors when using modal auxiliaries:

    1. Using an infinitive instead of a base verb after a modal
      a. Incorrect: I can to move this heavy table.
      b. Correct: I can move this heavy table.
    2. Using a gerund instead of a base verb after a modal
      a. Incorrect: I could moving to the United States.
      b. Correct: I could move to the United States.
    3. Using two modals in a row
      a. Incorrect: I should must renew my passport.
      b. Correct: I must renew my passport.
      c. Correct: I should renew my passport.
    4. Leaving out a modal
      a. Incorrect: I renew my passport.
      b. Correct: I must renew my passport.

    Exercise: Common Modal Auxiliary Errors

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    Edit the following paragraph by correcting the common modal auxiliary errors:

    I may to go to France on vacation next summer. I shall might visit the Palace of Versailles. I will to drive around the countryside. I could imagining myself living there; however,

    I will not moved to France because my family should miss me very much.

    Modals with Present Perfect Verbs

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    In the previous section, we defined the present perfect verb tense as describing a continuing situation or something that has just happened. Remember, when a sentence contains a modal auxiliary before the verb, the helping verb is always "have."

    Common Errors

    Be aware of the following common errors when using modal auxiliaries in conditional statements:

    • Using "had" instead of "have"
      Incorrect: Jamie would had attended the party, but he was sick.
      Correct: Jamie would have attended the party, but he was sick.
    • Leaving out "have"
      Incorrect: Jamie would attended the party, but he was sick.
      Correct: Jamie would have attended?the party, but he was sick.

    Key Takeaways

    Modals

    Check List start copy

    • The basic formula for using a modal auxiliary is: subject + modal auxiliary + main verb in the base form.
    • There are ten main modal auxiliaries in English: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must, and ought to.
    • The four common types of errors when using modals include the following: using an infinitive instead of a base verb after a modal, using a gerund instead of a base verb after a modal, using two modals in a row, and leaving out a modal.
    • In the present perfect tense, when a sentence has a modal auxiliary before the verb, the helping verb is always have.
    • The two common errors when using modals in the present perfect tense include using had instead of have and leaving out have.
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