Questions tagged [modal-verbs]

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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180 votes
3 answers
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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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154 votes
6 answers
35k views

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 “don’...
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117 votes
11 answers
113k views

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 tenses? ...
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72 votes
1 answer
308k views

Why use "need not" instead of "do not need to"?

The header of psyco.sourceforge.net states: High-level languages need not be slower than low-level ones. Why use need not instead of do not need? What does it mean? Also, why no to before be?
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60 votes
17 answers
28k views

"Can I" vs "May I" in restaurant setting when ordering

A while back, while we were getting fast food, my friend commented on my usage of "can" versus "may" when asking to take my order. I said: Can I have a ....... and my friend argued you're ...
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56 votes
5 answers
13k views

Why can't the word "can" be used in future tense (will can)?

I'm curious about why the English word can cannot be used in future tense (e.g. will can). An example unrelated to English is French term je pourrai, but that's exactly what I mean. Compare German ...
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39 votes
6 answers
31k views

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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37 votes
5 answers
81k views

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 a ...
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36 votes
1 answer
192k views

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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  • 6,539
34 votes
3 answers
136k views

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 not ...
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  • 2,634
33 votes
13 answers
60k views

"May" & "Might": What's the right context?

I may not be coming in tomorrow... I might not be coming in tomorrow... When should I use "may" and when should I use "might"?
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32 votes
6 answers
97k views

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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32 votes
4 answers
49k views

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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29 votes
5 answers
22k views

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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29 votes
6 answers
188k views

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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27 votes
3 answers
5k views

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 can ...
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25 votes
5 answers
95k views

"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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  • 4,195
23 votes
6 answers
96k views

"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", "...
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  • 819
22 votes
5 answers
110k views

"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 can'...
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  • 323
22 votes
1 answer
123k views

'There seem' or 'there seems' + usage of the word 'seem'

First, I have a question "How words 'seem' and 'there' are used together?" Which is correct: There seem ... or There seems ... Then, I'm am interested in general constructions with the word 'seem'...
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21 votes
12 answers
11k views

Can "would" be used twice in an English conditional sentence and still be grammatical?

I know how conditional if clause sentences work. I'm aware of the rules which I have to follow. However, I sometimes use would after would which of course is incorrect in terms of grammar. Is there ...
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19 votes
4 answers
34k views

Difference between "should" and "ought to"

What is the difference between You should go and You ought to go? I rarely use the latter.
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18 votes
4 answers
797 views

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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17 votes
3 answers
5k views

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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17 votes
6 answers
361k views

"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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16 votes
3 answers
177k views

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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15 votes
3 answers
52k views

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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  • 167
15 votes
6 answers
3k views

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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13 votes
3 answers
7k views

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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  • 2,092
13 votes
4 answers
141k views

"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? Why ...
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13 votes
4 answers
5k views

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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13 votes
3 answers
90k views

Is "should" ever used as past tense of "shall"?

Looking at the dictionary, I read that should has origin as past tense of shall. ORIGIN Old English sceolde: past of shall. In the modern English, is should ever used as past tense of shall?
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13 votes
6 answers
110k views

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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13 votes
4 answers
5k views

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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13 votes
3 answers
658 views

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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13 votes
3 answers
43k views

When should we use "can", "could", "will", "would"?

Most people say I wish I could, I wish you would. Can we use I wish I can, I wish you will? I'd like to know what the main differences between the usage of can/will and could/would are when ...
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12 votes
4 answers
3k views

May, might confusion [duplicate]

When should I use each of the following: This may help. This might help. I always get confused about the use of may and might.
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  • 365
11 votes
9 answers
31k views

Is "Can I have a cup of coffee?" polite? [closed]

Is "Can I have a cup of coffee?" polite? What if I ask a store employee, "Can I have something?"
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  • 761
11 votes
2 answers
16k views

"Dare" with and without "to"

To my surprise, there's a missing question about this particularly interesting verb, dare. All I know about it is the fact it can be in two forms, as an auxiliary (without to: "I dare not mention ...
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11 votes
2 answers
4k views

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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  • 95.8k
10 votes
6 answers
165k views

"won't" vs. "wouldn't"

Are these two words interchangeable? How do you know when to use one or the other? For some sentences it is easy to know which one to use, but not for others. The type of sentences that are difficult ...
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10 votes
4 answers
58k views

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 address? ...
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10 votes
2 answers
10k views

"cannot" vs. "must not"

It's pretty common, especially in video games' mission objectives, to state: A person X must not die. Would this be rapidly different if constructed like this? A person X cannot die.
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10 votes
2 answers
970 views

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 as ...
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  • 574
10 votes
4 answers
5k views

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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  • 12.4k
10 votes
3 answers
18k views

"If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be..." What does this mean?

I'm translating a book, which involves logic and quoted the sentence from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass: "If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain'...
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  • 201
10 votes
1 answer
37k views

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 ...
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  • 1,531
10 votes
4 answers
3k views

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 learners....
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  • 295
9 votes
2 answers
499 views

Why can't I use a regular modal verb here?

I have a question regarding the following question in a English grammar test: Fill in the correct option in the blank: What  ___  in order to get a permit to work in your country? A) do I need to do ...
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  • 93
9 votes
2 answers
218k views

Difference between "does have" and "has" [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: “did shoot” vs “shot” 'Did see' and 'Saw' “I understand you” vs “I do understand you” What is the difference in meaning between “I play” and “I do ...
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