Modal verbs (such as can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, and must) combine with verbs in the bare infinitive to express information about the verb such as possibility or necessity.

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Where were “should”, “shall”, and “must” in the 18th Century?

According to the following Google Ngram, in the U.K. the modals should, shall, and must were virtually missing from English writing during the 18th Century (I've added will for a comparison modal ...
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Why is “cannot” spelled as one word?

Why is “cannot” spelled as one word whereas other similar constructions such as “do not,” “will not,” “shall not,” “may not” and “must not” are spelled as two words (unless they are contracted as ...
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How many tenses are there in English?

Do we have 16 tenses in English? With future present past future in the past in these forms simple continuous perfect perfect continuous Can we manipulate these together to create English ...
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What is the infinitive of “can”?

Like the title says: I don't think "to can" is right :) I mean "can" as in to be able to. I'm aware of other meanings. I can't find the answer here. (There's What is an "infinitive"? which ...
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Is “might could” a correct construct?

I have a friend from the southern U.S. who uses the phrase “might could” quite often. He’ll say, for example: I might could do that this weekend. When I first heard him say this, it made me do ...
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Why do we say “was supposed to” for “should have”?

I was supposed to do my homework, but I went out clubbing instead. On a literal interpretation, supposed to suggests that other people (or indeed, myself) might have supposed (thought, imagined, ...
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“May” & “Might”: What's the right context?

I may not be coming in tomorrow... I might not be coming in tomorrow... When could I use "may" & "might"?
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Is “must” ever grammatical as a past tense verb?

I have seen uses of must that appear to be in the simple past tense. Sometimes these seem grammatical, but sometimes not. Examples that help illustrate my confusion: He knew he must go to New York ...
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Why should I use “ought to”?

Is "ought to" still used in modern English? If yes, in what contexts is it used, and is it used more in formal or informal cases?
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“How dare you” vs “How do you dare”

I know that dare is a semi-modal verb. I just don't know when to use it like a modal auxiliary verb and when to use it like a normal verb. Given the following examples: How dare you ... How do ...
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May you please explain this?

At a family dinner, my 18 year-old niece asked my sister, "May you please pass the salt?" My sister said that she was impressed with her daughter's politeness, but that that particular wording was ...
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When did periphrastic tenses stop being tenses?

English sometimes has several different ways of expressing the same thing. For example, it can form a possessive either by using an old case inflection: The dog’s tail was always wagging. Or it ...
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Should Kyle be corrected, and if he doesn't, why?

In a recent blog entry, Jeff Atwood quotes his sysadmin Kyle: "Should the developers have access to the production environment, and if they do, to what extent?" My understanding is that this ...
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“Can hardly wait” versus “can't hardly wait”

This has been bothering me for a while and I'm finally at a forum where I feel like I might get an answer. I have heard people say "I can hardly wait for summer to get here" and I've also heard "I ...
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Do serious grammarians endorse the “Can I”/“May I” distinction?

Just now, I wanted to ask a question that was something like, "Can I get a thorough list of all the parts of speech that a sentence can be broken down into?" But then a nagging voice appeared in my ...
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What kind of construct is 'would that that were all'?

There is a place in Bram Stoker’s Dracula where I can’t quite parse the grammar: 8 May. — I began to fear as I wrote in this book that I was getting too diffuse. But now I am glad that I went ...
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How do I ask a question politely?

When I was growing up, if I ever said something similar to "Can I go to the store with Joe?", my mom would correct me with "May I go to the store with Joe?". Is "May I?" the typical way to ask a ...
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What is the difference between 'can', 'could', 'may' and 'might'?

I'm a native English speaker and I've been doing some research into English grammar for a programme I'm working on. However, on looking into modal verbs, I've only just come to appreciate how subtle ...
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A special use of “should”?

I saw a sentence like this: Wilkinson is contesting the release, and threatened to sue should it be released. I could understand it but do you know what do they call this kind of use of "should" ...
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Is “can not” unambiguous?

I always try to remember to use "cannot" when applicable as in "I cannot take an umbrella" (because I do not have one). I also thought that the problem with "I can not take an umbrella" was that it ...
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Can a hypothetical “could” main clause stand on its own without an expressed conditional?

I have been reading Meaning and the English Verb (Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004). I like its systematic treatment on tense, aspect, mood, and modality. I think it's a must-have for any advanced ESL ...
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Why to use “May” before using “May God bless you”?

I heard it many times but I haven't really pondered on that. We can hear these following sentences in our daily lives: May God bless you. May God be pleased with you. May God accept your ...
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“need to do” vs “need do”

Consider: I need to do this. I need do this. My English grammar knowledge tells me that "need" doesn't have the same status as the modal verbs "may", "can", "should" and what not. Hence the second ...
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How to add emphasis to a modal verb

To add emphasis to a normal verb, we use the emphatic do: He does run fast. Do come in. Do brush your teeth. Obviously, with modal verbs this would be a grave mistake: (*) He ...
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Can “mustn't” be used for conclusions?

I heard this sentence in an American film a while ago as I was watching it on DVD (the part after but is verbatim): "I'm doing my best but I mustn't be doing it right." This is something I ...
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Is “should” ever used as past tense of “shall”?

Looking at the dictionary, I read that should has origin as past tense of shall. In the modern English, is should ever used as past tense of shall? ORIGIN Old English sceolde: past of shall.
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“Can/may/will you help me with this?”

Which word to use when we ask for help? Some conditions: We know that the person asked is able to do it. We don't know if the person asked is able to do it.
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Dare + have done

Here is an example from an old book. I know it’s old but it can’t be simply discarded, I hope. "I never dare have spoken — never dare have told you that my love for you was killing me" So, I ...
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Substituting “do” after modals

Occasionally I hear native English speakers, typically those from outside the U.S., say things like: Are you going to the concert this weekend? Yeah, I might do. That is, rather than saying I ...
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Is it appropriate to omit “to” after “ought”?

Is it appropriate to omit to after ought? I ought to be disciplined for my insolence. Vs. I ought be disciplined for my insolence. Is it okay to omit the to?
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Is “Can I have a cup of coffee?” polite?

Is "Can I have a cup of coffee?" polite? What if I ask a store employee, "Can I have something?"
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“He grew up around cars that would later become classics.”

My question is about the use of would in the following sentence. He grew up around cars that would later become classics. The use of would in this particular sense always looks confusing to me ...
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What's the tense for repetitive past action?

In English, "would" usually denotes a conditional voice. "If I were sleepy, I would go to bed." But I've caught myself using it to denote repetitive or habitual past action. "On Thursdays, we would ...
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Why is “can” such an odd verb?

The English verb can is very strange for several reasons: It drops the to on any infinitive verb forms that follow it. That is, unlike in the verb want in the sentence I want to eat, you would not ...
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When to use “cannot” versus “can't”?

When is it best to write "can't" versus writing "cannot"? Are they interchangeable in every situation?
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Are “was/were able to” and “could” interchangeable?

In a grammar book, the claim was made that in the following sentences one cannot substitute "was/were able to" with "could." The fire spread through the building very quickly, but everyone was ...
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Can I say “We don't must”, any alternative using a modal verb if I can't?

Let me explain. Suppose someone says "We must play a game now". I disagree, but only on that we have to do it. I shouldn't answer "We must not" because I would be saying that the game is not to be ...
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Is either “can” or “could” more polite? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: When do I use “can” or “could”? I wonder which of the following is more polite: Can you please change my email address? Could you please change my email ...
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Is “will never have been” valid English?

I was reading this phrase "will never have been" and I was wondering what grammatical structure does it belong to / is it grammatical? I'm not sure why but it sounds weird. What is the difference ...
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Are “might” and “should” past tenses of “may” and “shall”, respectively?

According to the dictionary definitions (e.g. in Merriam-Webster) , "should" is the past of "shall" and "might" is the past of "may": But are these modal verbs really used as such? I know they are ...
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Question about the future “tense”

My daughter, who is in the 4th grade, was asked to answer questions about the following sentence: What time can you meet us at the school on Tuesday? She was asked questions about the usage of ...
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Use of “should have” in conditional sentences

In Return of the Soldier (1918) I came across what appears to be a conditional sentence: I never should have got this telegram if me and my husband hadn't been down there last September and told ...
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When should we use “can”, “could”, “will”, “would”?

Most of the people says I wish I could, I wish you would. Can't we use I wish I can, I wish you will? I'd like to know what the main difference between the usage of can/will and could/would is.
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Nuances in variants of “I should/would/∅ think so”

What is the difference between saying: I should think so. I would think so. I think so. And also what does using should in this way mean? It is strange you should say you have seen her, seeing ...
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Using “will” after “if”

I've been told that native-speakers don't ever use "will" after "if", and that saying it this way is a not-native style. So from the film (Harry Potter, pt5) I noticed a line that confused me. Look ...
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What modal verbs do natives use nowadays?

We are being taught English by a native speaker from Alaska. He states that many of modal verbs we were taught are outdated and have been replaced. E.g.: We must ➙ We have to May I ...
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“will be able to” vs. “can”

Consider the following: He will be able to do it. He can do it. They mean the same thing, right? Can "can" replace "will be able to" in any sentence? What is the difference, if anything? ...
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Why would he do this to me?

Do the following two statements convey the same meaning? Why would he do this to me? Why did he do this to me? To me, both of them seem to imply something done to me in the past.
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“Should” versus “would”

The NOAD reports the following notes about should and would: The traditional rule is that should is used with first person pronouns (I and we), as in I said I should be late, and would is used ...
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Grammar of 'dare' in this example

What is the grammar of the verb 'dare' in the following example? The pizza was nice but, dare I say it, the salad was awful.  Is it some type of imperative?