Please share your thoughts about this item from an exam.

If it is possible for John to shift to architecture, he (should/could/must/might) shift to architecture.

It is possible for John to shift to architecture. John (should/could/must/might) shift to architecture.

So there are four options to choose from, please share your thoughts about why the 3 of them are not suitable and why 1 of them is the correct answer.


closed as off-topic by Dan Bron, Ellie Kesselman, Mari-Lou A, choster, snailboat May 10 '15 at 1:28

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  • 1
    Are you sure that quote is 100% accurate? It doesn't make sense. – Andrew Leach May 8 '15 at 14:15
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    Change your tutor. There's no way that the right verb can be selected, because the first half of that sentence doesn't make sense. – Andrew Leach May 8 '15 at 14:21
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    Yes. And in that case, any of the four alternatives is viable. – Andrew Leach May 8 '15 at 14:25
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    @user1764381 What do you think the right answer is, and why do you think so? We can help you learn better if you explain your thinking so we can correct it. – Barmar May 8 '15 at 15:30
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    What kind of insane exam are you doing? They can all work and would all mean different things. – user85526 May 8 '15 at 16:09

I would choose "could".

Having said that, the questions as presented by the OP is a bit ambiguous. I am reading it as:

If it is possible for John to move to Architcture, [you would say] "He (should/could/must/might) move to Architecture."

If this is the correct reading, then could for possibility is the best choice. Should is for advice; must is a conclusion; might is a speculation.

It could be that the whole thing is one sentence as:

"If it is possible for John to move to Architecture, he (should/could/must/might) move to architecture."

If that is the case, I don't know the answer. "Could" would be tautologous, but the other three could all be right dependant on the speakers purpose and the context of the utterance.

  • +1 for tautologous. Which imho applies to both could and might, regardless of whether one interprets the statement as relating to likelihood or capability (or even both, since all relevant words including possible can be used in either sense). – FumbleFingers May 8 '15 at 16:21
  • I have updated the sentence, please take a look, it is the correct one from the exam, sorry. – user1764381 May 9 '15 at 2:51

All four alternatives are valid (depending on context), but they all mean different things. Paraphrasing slightly for brevity...

1: If it is possible for him to go, he should go.
Speaker thinks he ought to go (if he can)

2: If it is possible for him to go, he could go.
Speaker is giving a "defining example" usage for possible and/or might (OR same as 4)

3: If it is possible for him to go, he must go.
Speaker thinks he is obliged to go (again, only if he can go)

4: If it is possible for him to go, he might go.
Speaker doesn't know whether he can go or not - but if he can, speaker believes he might actually go. OR speaker is simply giving a "dictionary definition" example usage where the comma can be approximately interpreted as means the same as, or implies the fact that.

Note that although it's somewhat "splitting hairs" to say 2 and 4 are "different", I think at the level of "probable nuance" 2 is more likely to be a "defining example". That's because in BrE at least, could is more associated with capability, whereas might is more associated with likelihood (possible can have both connotations, but in OP's exact context I think capability is a much more natural interpretation).

TL;DR: This is a bit of a silly question, because there is no "right" answer. Worse than that, by setting such a question, the [original] setter is bound to end up misleading students such as OP.

EDIT: The above text answers the original question. It's still a bad test question because we don't know if the second sentence is supposed to be a restatement of the first (i.e. - a "dictionary definition" as referred to in 2, 4 above), or an additional statement (as 1 and 3 above). Also, even if we assume it's a restatement/definition, both 2 and 4 are at least credible.

Doubtless the expected answer is 2 could, because It is possible for him [to do something] more strongly associates with possibility=capability as above.

4 might works better with It is possible [that] he will [do it], where possibility=likelihood.

  • I couldn't/shouldn't/mustn't/mightn't have said it better. – user85526 May 8 '15 at 16:12
  • @George: Noting particularly Andrew's comment, I was initially inclined to closevote. But he's a mod, and he didn't close it (nor had anyone else cvt'd in the hour before I got here), so I thought someone had better spell things out. I just hope OP didn't pay good money to be taught/tested by such an incompetent teacher/examiner. – FumbleFingers May 8 '15 at 16:15
  • Word. In a way, I could even see this being some American standardized test. I haven't done any for learning English, but I've seen similar questions on, for example, the ACT, for which they want you to select the "best" answer, whatever that is. – user85526 May 8 '15 at 16:19
  • Hi everyone, I thought "might" is used for "possibility", am I wrong? – user1764381 May 9 '15 at 2:45
  • I have updated the sentence, please take a look, it is the correct one from the exam, sorry. – user1764381 May 9 '15 at 2:51

It's a question of tautology:

If possible... he could means 'If he can make the change he can make the change'

or non-sequitur,

If possible... he must means If it is possible ... it is inevitable.

But If possible... he might seems to me a polite way of suggesting that he should seriously consider the option. And of course politeness is no longer acceptable. It is an eliptical version of 'If it is possible... he might consider...

So in this transparent world, choose the protasis which says 'deepending on the statutory, conventional, financial situation, i.e if possible... he should go for it.

  • Hi Hugh, thanks. But because there is only one answer in this exam question, could you please tell what is your answer? – user1764381 May 8 '15 at 15:13

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