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12.7: Modal Auxiliaries

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    We all need to express our moods and emotions, both in writing and in our everyday life. We do this by using modal auxiliaries to verbs.

    Modal Auxiliaries

    Modal auxiliaries are a type of helping verb that is used only with a main verb to help express the verb's 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, which are shown in Table 12.7.

    Table 12.7 -- 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)

    Use the following format to form a yes-no (closed) question with a modal auxiliary:

    Modal auxiliary + subject + main verb
    Should I drive?

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

    1. Using an infinitive instead of a base verb after a modal

      Incorrect: I can to move this heavy table.

      Correct: I can move this heavy table.

    2. Using a gerund instead of an infinitive or a base verb after a modal

      Incorrect: I could moving to the United States.

      Correct: I could move to the United States.

    3. Using two modals in a row

      Incorrect: I should must renew my passport.

      Correct: I must renew my passport.

      Correct: I should renew my passport.

    4. Leaving out a modal

      Incorrect: I renew my passport.

      Correct: I must renew my passport.

    Exercise 1

    Edit the following short 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 would to drive around the countryside. I could imagining myself living there; however, I will not move to France because my family should miss me very much.

    Modals and Present Perfect Verbs

    In the previous section, we defined present perfect verb tense as describing a continuing situation or something that has just happened.

    Figure: .
    Figure: Be aware of the following common errors when using modal auxiliaries in the present perfect tense:
    1. Incorrect: Jamie would had attended the party, but he was sick.

      Correct: Jamie would have attended the party, but he was sick.

    2. Incorrect: Jamie would attended the party, but he was sick.

      Correct: Jamie would have attended the party, but he was sick.

    Exercise 2

    On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by changing the given verb form to a modal auxiliary in present perfect tense.

    1. The man ________ (laugh).
    2. The frogs ________ (croak).
    3. My writing teacher ________ (smile).
    4. The audience ________ (cheer) all night.
    5. My best friend ________ (giggled).

    If you would like a more in-depth view of modal verbs, watch the following video:

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Contributors and Attributions



    This page titled 12.7: Modal Auxiliaries is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .