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Transcript of Modal Verbs
Modals: Meaning and Use
like to be a racer!
Would you like to be a pilot?
ride a bike very well when I was young.
Could you ride a bike?
drive, but when I was a child, I
drive real cars.
Can you drive?
Must I stop?
Should I speed up?
Can I go ahead?
Can I park here?
If I had money, I
buy a Mercedes.
If you had money, would you buy a Mercedes?
cross because the light is green.
May I cross the street now?
Must I stop?
Can I turn?
For advanced learners
precedes subject in questions
aspect and voice
Those are dangerous tools, you
shouldn't be playing
with them.In fact,
should be doing
homework.I'm just dawdling here.
This is impossible. It
can't be done
Yes, I guess it
could be altered
would have liked
it if she had come, but she's so stubborn she
wouldn't have admitted
slow down because you
see an animal.
slow down and stop.
slow down because a car
buy a Ferrari.
drive really fast!
Problems Students Encounter When Constructing and Using Modals
Structural Issues (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, pp. 136-138)
1) Overgeneralize previously learned rules
Ex. present tense verbs w 3rd person singular require an -s. (He cans play tennis.)
2) Modals directly proceed verb without an intervening “to”.
Ex. I can go. V.S. I want to go.
3) Tense Shifting in Reported Speech: What NS say contradicts previously learned rules regarding modals...modals are never tensed. (Modals used to be marked in earlier stages of our language. French, Spanish, and German still operate this way.)
4) Teaching Students to think of modals as “historical present tense modal” (can, will, may, shall) and “historical past tense modals” (could, would, might, should). No 1:1 ratio for present tense.
When to use a modal vs. phrasal modal? Answer: Context Counts!
I must attend the lecture. (to your boss)
Informal: Phrasal Modal
He’s gotta go to a meeting.(to your friend)
*many times phrasal modals are contracted and reduced in connected speech. (hasta, gotta, gonna, outta)
More Problems with Meaning
(Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 142)
(That must be Sydney calling.)
(That will be Sydney calling.)
(That should be Syndey calling)
(That may be Sydney...)
(That might be Syndey...)
Language Specific Problems
(Smith & Swan, 2001, pp. 203-204)
No Modals. Uses preposition followed by subjunctive.
I can go
I can go that I go
I must go
from the neccesary that I go
Will add regular verb endings to modal and use aux with them.
Does he can do that?
Yes, he cans do that.
Dialectal Differences (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 152)
British English: Must
You must come over for dinner.
We really must correct this error.
American varieties reserve “have to” for this function.
American English uses “must” for logical inferences.
Example: He must have heard the news.
How Do We Use Modals?
finally work on this presentation!
have waited so long.
- This summer I
have more free time.
Time Distinction Pairs
Personal (Intrinsic) modals refer to the control of actions or events by a person/agent.
take out the trash!”
brush my teeth before bed.”
Logical (Extrinsic) Modals usually refers to the level of certainty, likelihood, or logical necessity of a state or event.
have forgotten your umbrella.”
(Said after your friend walks in soaking wet)
be here awhile.”
(Said after seeing a long line ahead.)
Permission (P) /Ability (L)
-Can, Could, May, Might
Obligation (P) /Necessity (L)
- Must, Should
Volition (P) /Prediction (L)
- Will, Would, Shall
P = Personal (Intrinsic) L = Logical (Extrinsic)
Logical Possibility (Most Probable)
Ability (Most Direct)
Necessity (Most Direct)
Permission (Most Polite)
Strongest – Must (Will almost definitely happen)
Weakest – Might (Slight chance of happening)
Strongest – Can
Weakest – Could
Strongest – Must
Weakest – Should
Strongest – May “
I have some ice cream?” → “
I have some ice cream?”
Weakest – Can
Occurrence of Modals
Often known as helping (aux) verbs because they are used in conjunction with main verbs.
Cannot co-occur with another modal in standard English.
(Some dialects differ ex. I
Preceding the subject in a question.
we please go home now?)
Time Distinctions (Past/Present/Future)
*Not marked for tense
Should → “Ought to”
Must → “Have got to”
Still most common in conversation, however even more rare in other registers.
Some semi-modals can follow another modal.
Ex. I might need to wrap things up about now.
Biber, D., Conrad, S., & Leech, G. (2002).
student grammar of spoken and written English.
Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.
Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999).
Boston, MA: Heinle.
IPA transcriptions. (n.d.) In
Cambridge dictionaries online.
Retrieved from dictionary.cambridge.org
IPA transcriptions. (n.d.) In
Retrieved from dictionary.reference.com
Smith, B., & Swan, M. (2001).
guide to interference and other problems
(2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: University Press.
By Chris Bauserman
Problems with Meaning and Function
1)Epistemic (Logical Probability)
2)Social Interaction (Deontic)
Consider the use of may.
It may rain tomorrow.
You may go home, now.
Chinese (Smith & Swan, 2001, pp. 316- 317)
Does have 1:1 equivalent modal system, but English system indicates a wider range of meaning and feeling. Chinese students tend to avoid using modals.
Example: This is definately not true. VS. This can’t be true. I’m probably not coming. VS. I might not come.
Problem: Lack of modal use leads to the appearance of rudeness. Lack of social graces.
How might the dialogue below be transformed using modals to express more politeness? Have students work in groups to adapt the conversation.
A: Hey, you! Open the door!
B: It’s locked. Want me to go get the key?
A: Yeah. Get it fast.
Sample exercise to help students practice modals of politeness: