Posted by: episystechpubs | September 16, 2014

Editor’s Corner: I prefer a la mode, but modal will have to do.

Good afternoon, folks! I promised I’d get into modal verbs one of these days and that day is upon us.

So what is a modal verb?

Modal verbs (also called auxiliary, helping, or defective verbs) are verbs that express things such as possibility, likelihood, obligation, permission, and ability.

What are the modal verbs in English?

From the McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage:

Present Form Past Form
can could
may might
shall should
will would

What is so special (or defective) about modal verbs?

· In the present tense, they don’t require an “s” for the third person singular.

For example: “she will be there,” not “she wills be there.” With regular verbs, the third person singular requires an “s,” such as “she sells seashells,” or “he runs with abandon.”

· The modal verb must is the only verb in English with a present form but no past form.

· Modal verbs are followed by the infinitive of other verbs, without the “to.” (This may sound confusing because we call the infinitive the “to form” of a verb. “Infinitive” actually means the verb is not finite—it can’t be the main verb in a sentence.)

· For example:

o “You must come on Thursday,” not “You must to come on Thursday.”

o “She will write to you afterwards,” not “She will to write to you afterwards.”

· Modal verbs form questions by inverting words.

For example:

o “He can go” becomes “Can he go?”

o “She should run” becomes “Should she run?”

o “The weather will be good” becomes “Will the weather be good?”

Tomorrow: The softer, gentler side of modal verbs.

Mmmmm…a la mode!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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