“Can” is one of the most commonly used modal verbs in English. It can be used to express ability or opportunity, to request or offer permission, and to show possibility or impossibility.
ability: I can ride a motorbike.
opportunity: We can stay with my brother when we are in Morocco.
permission: Mouna cannot stay out after 10 PM.
request: Can you lend me your grammar book?
possibiliy: Any child can grow up to be a very important person in life.
NOTE: to express a future ability, we shift to “to be able to”.
- Mouna will be able to speak Spanish by the time she finishes her Spanish course.
To express a past opportunity, we may shift to “to be able to”.
- I didn’t have much work to do, so I was able to help my daughter with her assignment.
To express a past permission, we may shift to “to be allowed to”.
- He was not allowed to drive his father’s car because he had no driving license.
“Could” is used to express possibility or past ability as well as to make suggestions and requests. It is also commonly used in conditional sentences as the conditional form of “can”.
possibilty: Extreme rain could cause the river to flood the city.
past ability: Nelly could ski like a pro by the age of 11.
suggestion: You could see a movie or go out to dinner.
request: Could I use your computer to email my sister in Belgium?
conditional: We could go jogging if I didn’t have to work this weekend.
What is the difference between “could not” and “mightn’t”?
“Could not” suggests that it is impossible for something to happen.
“Might not” suggests you do not know if something happens.
- Nelly might not have a driving license. (Maybe he doesn’t have a driving license)
- Nelly could not have a driving license. (It is impossible that he has a driving license)
“Have to” is used to express certainty, necessity, obligation.
- This answer has to be correct. (certainty)
- The soup has to be stirred continuously to prevent burning. (necessity in the present)
- Ahmed has to leave early. (obligation)
NOTE: to express “certainty” in the past, we have two options:
- That has to have been the right public bath, there were no other public baths on this street.
- That must have been the right public bath, there were no other public baths on this street.
To express “necessity” in the past, we use “had to”:
- Zeynep had to go over all her lessons before the final exam.
To express “necessity” in the future, we use “will have to”:
- Selma will have to finish the revision of all her lessons before the exam.
To express “lack of necessity” in the present, “don’t/doesn’t have to” is used:
- She doesn’t have to read any book for his literature class, for it is optional.
“Had better” is most commonly used to make recommendations. It can also be used to express desperate hope as well as warn people.
- You had better take your umbrella with you today. RECOMMENDATIONS
- That bus had better get here soon! DESPERATE HOPE
- You had better watch the way you talk to me in the future. WARNING
“May” is commonly used to express possibility. It can also be used to give or request permission, although this usage is becoming less common.
- Sheila may be at home, or perhaps at work. (possibility)
- Luke, you may leave the table when you have finished your dinner. (giving permission)
- May I use your bathroom? (requesting permission)
Modal Verbs Quiz PART 1
Fill in the blanks with the right modal verbs from the list we've studied so far! Don't forget to share your score!!
You can try our other quizes here.
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