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    • Join Date: Apr 2004
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    Nuances between Modals

    Dear teachers,

    - What is the difference in meaning between all these sentences ? Are they all correct ?

    1a) My friend MAY BE ill. = Present; There is a strong possibility ?
    b) My friend MIGHT BE ill. = Conditional; There is a weaker possibility ?
    c) My friend MIGHT HAVE BEEN ill. = Past, a weak possibility ?

    d) She MIGHT not HAVE SEEN him, if he didn’t come up to her. = Past: she saw him.

    2a) My friend CAN be ill. = incorrect ? / = Possibility ?
    (If correct what's the difference between "CAN BE ill" and "MAY BE ill" ?)

    b) My friend COULD BE ill. = Past possibility /
    = Conditional: the possibility is stronger than with might ?

    c) My friend COULD HAVE BEEN ill. = Past possibility ? difference with b ?

    d) She COULD HAVE SEEN him. = past possiblity ?

    3a) My friend CAN’T BE ill. = It’s impossible that she is ill.
    b) My friend COULDN’T BE ill. = Present: is less certain than with 'can’t'? /
    = Past impossibility ?

    c) My friend COULDN'T HAVE BEEN ill. = Past impossibility ?
    difference with b) ?

    d) She couldn’t have seen him = It is impossible that she saw him?

    4a) The phone is ringing. It CAN BE Betty. (correct ? expresses possibility ?)
    b) The phone is ringing. It MAY BE Betty. (correct ? difference with a) ?)
    c) The phone is ringing. It MUST BE Betty. (= certain deduction ?)
    d) The phone is ringing. It HAS TO BE Betty. (difference with c) ?)
    e) The phone is ringing. It WILL BE Betty. = certain deduction about the
    present / prediction ? / difference with c) and d) ?

    5a) That will be Roland. I can hear him at the door.

    b) “Oh, that will be John. He said he would drop by this afternoon."
    (direct speech = certain deduction / prediction)

    c) That would be John, Mary thought. He had said that he would probably drop by.
    (same thing “present deduction with a high degree of certainty” but in indirect speech ?)

    d) That will have been Roland… (what can I add here ?) = (correct ? / possible sentence ?)

    - What’s the difference between “would” and “will have been”?)

    I know that this is quite long but I would be very grateful if you could answer all of my questions. In different posts if you like.

    Best regards,

    • Member Info
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    Re: Nuances between Modals

    2a)- I wouldn't use 'can' here, use may/could
    2b & c- the first is talking about present time, and the second about past time.
    4a)- This sound wrong to me
    4b- possibility, but far from certain, unlike the rest, which express more certainty.
    5c- correct
    5d- That will have been Roland- he always phones her at this time. (I've been trying to get through to her)

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