Posted by: episystechpubs | September 17, 2014

Editor’s Corner: More on modal verbs

As I mentioned yesterday, modal verbs are also called “helping” or “auxiliary” verbs. To get the real flavor of how English modal verbs are used, this article from the Frankfurt International School does a great job explaining. Sometimes I find that English as a Second Language (ESL) lessons break down our language into more digestible pieces than English grammar books do. J

Modal verbs

The modal verbs include can, must, may, might, will, would, should. They are used with other verbs to express ability, obligation, possibility, and so on. Below is a list showing the most useful modals and their most common meanings:

Modal Meaning Example
can to express ability I can speak a little Russian.
may to express possibility I may be home late.
may to request permission May I sit down, please?
must to express obligation I must go now.
must to express strong belief She must be over 90 years old.
should to give advice You should stop smoking.
would to request or offer Would you like a cup of tea?
would in if-sentences If I were you, I would say sorry.

Note: Many native English speakers will use can to request permission. For example, “Can I watch TV?” Many native English speakers are also asked, in return, “I don’t know, can you? You may turn on the TV.” This correction may be met with appreciation or a smack to the head, depending on who is correcting whom.

Tomorrow: Modal verbs and technical documentation.

Friday: Merry mondegreens!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

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