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Examples of Modal Auxiliaries and their Usage

 

BE ABLE TO

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Ability

Julie is somehow able to attend school and be a great mother for her four children.

Josie was never able to meet her boss's expectations.


 

 



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CAN

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Permission

Can I go to the movies? [Less formal than "may"; some people object to this use of "can."]

He could have gone to the movies, but he didn't ask.

Possibility

I can do my algebra homework by myself.

Last year, I couldn't do my algebra without a tutor's help.

Polite
Request

Can you help me after class? [Less formal than "will," "could," or "Would you mind."

No past form.

Possibility

The New Chennai Team can win a lot of games this season.

No past form

 
 

COULD

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Permission

Could I please leave now?

He could have left now, but he didn't ask to be excused.

Possibility

It could be a great year for the Blue Mountain Team.

It could have been a great year if it weren't for all those injuries.

Polite
Request

Could you change my tire for me? [More formal than "can" or "will."]

No past form.


 

HAD
BETTER

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Advice

You had better quit smoking now.

You should have quit smoking last year. [Expresses regret

 
 

HAVE TO

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Necessity

She has to pay her tuition fees before she can attend classes.

She had to pay her tuition fees before she could attend classes.

 
 

MAY

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Permission

May I go to the movies?

No past form.

Possibility

It may be a good year for the New York Giants.

It may have been a good day for her, but I'm not sure.

Guessing

It's June already; my father may plant his garden this weekend.

It's June already so my father may have planted his garden last weekend.

 
 

MIGHT

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Possibility

It seems rather unlikely, but the Bulls might win another championship. [Expresses something less likely than "can," "may," or "could."]

It seemed unlikely, but the Bulls might have won another championship

 
 

MUST

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Necessity

You must pay your lab fees before entering the laboratory.

No past form. Use "had to": He had to pay lab fees before entering the laboratory.

Conclusion

Your wife's been gone a week. You must miss her. [Expresses a near certainty]

You look exhausted. You must have been up all night. [Expresses a certainty of something in the past.]

Guessing

It's noon so she must be on her way home.

No past form

 
 

NOT
HAVE TO

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Lack of
Necessity

During Amnesty Week, you don't have to pay library fines.

It was Amnesty Week, and he didn't have to pay library fines.

 
 

OUGHT

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Advice

You really ought to quite smoking now.

He really ought to have quit smoking. [Most writers would prefer "should have quit.]

Expectation

The bus ought to arrive by eight o'clock.

The bus should have arrived by eight o'clock. [Expresses disappointed expectation.]

 
 

SHOULD

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Advice

You really should quit smoking now.

He should have quit smoking earlier. [shows regret]

Expectation

The bus should be here before eight o'clock.

The bus should have been here by eight o'clock. [It was expected to be here, but it didn't arrive.]

Guessing

It's noon so she should be home soon.

No past form

 

 
 

WILL

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Polite
Request

Will you help me with my homework? [A bit more formal than "can," a little less formal than "could."]

No past form

 
 

WOULD
YOU MIND

Present or Future Tense

Past Tense

Permission

Would you mind if I brought my brother to your wedding?

Would you have minded if I had taken my brother to your wedding.

Polite
Requests

Would you mind helping me with my homework?

No past form.





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