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    Few very confusing things about modal verbs


    Perhaps a bit about me. I dropped out of high school when I was 16, but now 5 years later I’ve decided to finish it. So I’m studying at home and then go and take exams.

    Anyways, I recently started learning English. I know the language reasonably well, meaning I am able to use it correctly ( to a point ), but not on a very conscious level ( is this making any sense? ). Anyways, I haven’t learned any grammar for 5 years now ( I decided to do English exams before those for my native language, since I figured English would be a wee easier), so all this stuff is new and confusing to me. Thus, I’m hoping I will get some help here when I’ll need it?!

    And I’m sorry about making three threads at the same time, it won’t happen again!

    BTW – could you dumb down your explanations a bit, since I’m not the brightest of the herd?

    a) When modal verbs are used, can a sentence using a modal only have forms “MODAL + present infinitive” and “MODAL + perfect infinitive”, but not “MODAL + past tense”? Thus the following is wrong:

    He should told me yesterday.” ?

    b) When do we choose to use “MODAL + present infinitive” and when “MODAL + perfect infinitive” when talking about something in the past?

    2) Modal verbs can be used to express ideas about the past, present and future. For example, COULD can have the following forms:

    “COULD + present infinitive” and “COULD + perfect infinitive”

    a) “She could play the piano when she was five.”

    Here we use the form “COULD + present infinitive”. But would we say that the above sentence is in simple present tense, even if it talks about the past, or does the sentence use some kind of “special” past tense form, used only when certain modal verbs are used in a sentence ?

    b) Similary, MAY/MIGHT, SHOULD all can be used using present infinitive or perfect infinitive. I assume whatever the answer to my above question is, the same holds true for these modal verbs?


    a) I assume COULD can also be used to express present ability and not just past ability:

    “You could do this.” ( right now)

    b) “She could type well as a trainee.”

    Couldn’t the above sentence express either past ability or present ability? So how can we know for sure?

    a) When WOULD is part of conditional statement, does it still act as modal ( meaning is its function still to help other verbs express their meanings ) or does it act as an “ordinary” auxiliary verb?

    b) Which of the following modals can be used instead of WILL with first conditional :


    c) if MAY is used instead of WILL in the first conditional, do we say that it has the following form:

    If + present simple + MAY + present simple?

    d) Which is a correct definition and why:

    Second conditional has the following form:

    If + past simple + MODAL + present simple


    if + past simple + present conditional


    if + past simple + MODAL + present infinitive

    hope you find the time

    kind regards

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    Re: Few very confusing things about modal verbs


    [1] He should told me yesterday.
    => He should have told me yesterday.

    See Learning English | BBC World Service

    She could play the piano. <could = past>
    => COULD + bare infinitive
    She can play the piano. <can = present>

    Note that, bare infinitives lack tense, which is why could and can carry tense. There's this rule: only one verb per simple sentence can carry tense.

    • You could do this right now (, if you wanted to). <conditional>
    • You can do this right now. <permission>
    • She can <present> type well, and she could <past> type well as/(when she was) a trainee.
    [4] Would (a modal, a modal auxiliary verb, modal auxiliary) is a type of auxiliary verb.
    If it is sunny tomorrow, I might go to the beach.
    (Going to the beach is only a possibility)

    If you come early, you can see my mother before she leaves.
    (It is possible for you to see my mother)

    When we use will in the result clause of the first conditional, we are certain that something will happen. It is definite. But we can use may or might instead of will. This means that the consequence is not certain. It is possible, but not definite.

    I'm not feeling very well. If it rains tomorrow, I’ll stay at home.
    I'm feeling fine and I've got a car. If it rains tomorrow, I might stay at home, or I may go shopping. I'll decide tomorrow.

    Note: In the first conditional, there is no difference in meaning between may and might.

    BBC World Service | Learning English | The Flatmates - Language Point 24

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