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  • Hi, I'm Stephanie.

  • Welcome to Oxford Online English!

  • In this lesson, you can learn about English modal verbs.

  • What are modal verbs?

  • What do they do?

  • Why do you need them?

  • You'll see answers to all these questions in this class.

  • Before we start, you should check out our website: Oxford Online English dot com.

  • You can find all our free English lessons.

  • We also offer online classes with professional teachers, where you can study speaking, prepare

  • for IELTS, improve your pronunciation, or whatever else you want!

  • Let's get back to our topic with some basic points you should know to use modal verbs

  • correctly.

  • Shall we start?

  • Yeah, we probably should!

  • So, can you tell me something about modal verbs?

  • Sure.

  • What would you like to know?

  • I must know everything about them!

  • That might take a long time!

  • You'll help me, though, right?

  • Of course, even though it may be challenging.

  • There are nine modal verbs in English.

  • You just heard a dialogue with nine lines.

  • Each line contains one modal verb.

  • Can you name the nine modal verbs in English?

  • Maybe you know them already, but if not, you can go back and try to find them in the dialogue.

  • The nine modal verbs are: can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should and must.

  • What do modal verbs do, and how are they different from other verbs?

  • Also, why are they so important?

  • Modal verbs add information to other verbs.

  • That's their job.

  • They can add ideas like possibility, uncertainty, or obligation to another verb.

  • Grammatically, modal verbs follow their own rules.

  • Let's see what this means.

  • Rule number one: a modal verb is followed by an infinitive verb, without 'to'.

  • For example: 'She can speak fluent Spanish.'

  • 'We shouldn't do anything until we know more.'

  • 'They won't be here before ten.'

  • You can't put a noun after a modal verb, or an -ing verb, or anything else, only an

  • infinitive verb without 'to'.

  • Rule number two: modal verbs can't be used in different times or tenses.

  • Modal verbs don't have past, perfect or future tenses like regular verbs do.

  • There are some cases where this isn't 100% true.

  • For example, 'could' is the past tense of 'can' in some cases.

  • 'Would' sometimes acts like a past version of 'will'.

  • However, 'could' can also have a present or future meaning.

  • It's better to think about each modal verb individually.

  • Rule number three: modal verbs are *auxiliary* verbs.

  • That means you make negatives by adding 'not' to the end of the verb.

  • For example: can, can't.

  • Would, wouldn't.

  • Might, might not.

  • Negative modal verbs are often contracted, although 'might not' and 'may not'

  • are usually written fully, without contractions.

  • For 'will' and 'shall', the spelling changes in the negative: will, won't; shall,

  • shan't.

  • To make a question, move the modal verb before the subject.

  • For example: 'Should I tell him?'

  • 'What would you do?'

  • What about the other question: why are modal verbs important?

  • Modal verbs can express many basic concepts which you will need regularly, in any situation.

  • Modal verbs are used to express obligation, give advice, talk about possibility and probability,

  • ask for permission, and more.

  • Next, let's look at the meanings which modal verbs can express in more detail.

  • Can I ask you something?

  • Sure.

  • I'm thinking I might ask for a transfer to the Singapore office.

  • I've always wanted to live abroad, and I think now's the right time.

  • What do you think?

  • I think if you've thought about it, then you should try it.

  • Better to regret something you did than something you didn't do; that's my view.

  • Hmm

  • Will they agree, though?

  • You don't know till you ask!

  • Anyway, I'm sure they'll agree; you have a good track record here, and if you come

  • back later you'll have a lot of valuable experience.

  • So, they should say yes.

  • I'm just worried, because I know that Olga asked for a transfer to Canada, and they wouldn't

  • let her

  • That's a totally different situation.

  • Olga's a tax specialist; she's irreplaceable.

  • I wanted to ask one more thing: will you write a reference for me?

  • No problem!

  • I'd be happy to.

  • There's one more thing you must do before you apply.

  • What's that?

  • Talk to the Singapore office.

  • I can put you in contact if you need.

  • That's great!

  • Thanks so much for helping me out.

  • You can use modal verbs to express nine fundamental ideas.

  • Maybe you're thinking: “That's nice and easy!

  • There are nine modal verbs, and nine meanings, so each verb must have one meaning, right?”

  • Nope!

  • Unfortunately, it's more complicated than that.

  • First, the nine meanings are broad.

  • Each contains several smaller ideas.

  • Secondly, every modal verb can have more than one meaning.

  • Anyway, we'll worry about that later!

  • For now, let's look at the nine fundamental ideas which modal verbs can express.

  • Asking permission.

  • Expressing possibility or impossibility, when you think something could be true or not.

  • Giving advice or suggestions.

  • Expressing certainty or uncertainty, when you're sure something is true or not.

  • Expressing probability, when you think one result is more likely than another

  • Expressing willingness or refusal, for example when someone lets or doesn't let someone

  • else do something.

  • Making a request or an offer.

  • Expressing an obligation, when it's necessary to do something.

  • Expressing ability, when someone has the capacity to do something, or not.

  • In the dialogue, there's at least one example of each of these nine basic meanings.

  • Can you find them?

  • If you want a challenge, go back and listen to the dialogue again.

  • Try to find one sentence with a modal verb which expresses each of the nine basic meanings.

  • Let's look together.

  • Here are nine sentences from the dialogue.

  • The first sentence is asking permission.

  • You use 'can' to ask 'Is this OK?'

  • Sentence two is talking about possibility.

  • You're saying that something is possible, but not certain.

  • The third sentence is giving advice.

  • Number four is expressing certainty.

  • You're sure that something is true now, or that something will happen in the future.

  • In case you're wondering, possibility and certainty are closely related.

  • We're separating them, but you could also see them as two sides of the same idea.

  • However, probability, as in sentence five, is different.

  • Here's a question: what's the difference between probability and possibility?

  • Probability has different levels.

  • Something can be 90% probable, or 50% or 20%, or whatever.

  • Possibility is binary: either something is possible, or it isn't.

  • It doesn't make sense to say that something is 50% possible.

  • This might sound abstract, but it's relevant to using modal verbs.

  • Here, 'should' expresses probability.

  • The sentence 'They should say yes' means that it's more likely they'll say 'yes'

  • than 'no'.

  • The sixth sentence expresses refusal.

  • 'Wouldn't' here has a similar meaning to 'refused to'.

  • Number seven is a request, when you ask someone to do something for you.

  • The eighth sentence expresses an obligation.

  • 'Must' here means that it's necessary to do something.

  • Finally, the ninth sentence expresses ability.

  • So, there's a lot of information here!

  • What should you take away?

  • Let's look at two key points.

  • First, not every modal verb was used in these nine sentences.

  • There's no 'could', no 'shall' and no 'may'.

  • What does this tell you?

  • It shows you what we told you before: every modal verb can have more than one meaning.

  • Also, it shows you that every idea, like obligation, certainty, and so on, can be expressed by

  • more than one modal verb.

  • Let's look at this point in more detail.

  • Can you look at something for me?

  • Sure.

  • What's up?

  • It's my laptop.

  • It's acting weirdly.

  • I know you're good with these things, so

  • What's the problem exactly?

  • It keeps freezing, and I can't do anything for a while.

  • Sometimes it's just a few seconds, but sometimes it goes on for half an hour.

  • It's really annoying!

  • Older laptops can get like that sometimes.

  • But I only bought it six months ago!

  • Do you have an antivirus program?

  • Yes, and I do scans regularly.

  • It can't be a virus.

  • I'm not so good with technology, but I am pretty security conscious.

  • Hmm

  • That's probably not the problem, then.

  • Can I take it for an hour or so?

  • I'll need your login password, too.

  • That way I can take a proper look.

  • OK, here.

  • Thank you so much!

  • In this dialogue, there were five different sentences using the modal verb 'can'.

  • Do you remember them?

  • Here they are.

  • In each sentence, 'can' has a different meaning.

  • Think about the nine basic meanings of modal verbs, which you saw in section two.

  • Can you explain the meaning of 'can' in each of these sentences?

  • Can you see how they're different?

  • 'Can you look at something for me?' is a request.

  • 'I can't do anything for a while' expresses ability.

  • 'Older laptops can get like that sometimes' expresses a general possibility.

  • It's like saying 'It's common for older laptops to get like that.'

  • 'It can't be a virus' expresses certainty.

  • It's like saying 'I'm sure it isn't a virus.'

  • 'Can I take it for an hour or so?' is asking permission to do something.

  • This is just one modal verb.

  • 'Can' is an extreme example, because most modal verbs don't have five different meanings.

  • Actually, 'can' has a sixth meaningit can be used to make an offer, as in 'Can

  • I help you with anything?'

  • However, every modal verb has at least two different meanings, and most have three or

  • four.

  • So, what's the point here?

  • Point one: *really* don't try to understand modal verbs by translating them into your

  • language.

  • Of course, this is true generally, but it's especially important with modal verbs, because

  • they don't translate cleanly between languages.

  • If you think that 'can' in English translates to one verb in your language, you'll create

  • problems for yourself.

  • Point two: to understand a modal verb in a sentence, you need to understand the context.

  • Again, this is general advice, but again it's especially important with modal verbs.

  • The meaning of a modal verb can be completely different in different contexts.

  • Point three: the different meanings of a modal verb are unconnected.

  • Look at two sentences with 'must': 'It must be lateit's dark outside.'

  • 'You must read this article.

  • It's so interesting!'

  • What does 'must' mean in these two sentences?

  • In the first sentence, 'must' expresses certainty.

  • You're saying 'I'm sure it's late, because it's dark outside.'

  • In the second sentence, 'must' expresses strong advice.

  • Most English learners will first learn 'must' to express obligation, in sentences like 'Employees

  • must keep records of all expenses.'

  • Often, they'll think about 'must' by translating it into their language.

  • Then, when they see the word 'must', they think about the verb in their language.

  • If you do this, you might think that other meanings of 'must' are somehow connected

  • to the idea of obligation, or whatever you learned first.

  • But, there's no connection.

  • It's just coincidence that you use the word 'must' in these three sentences.

  • The meaning is completely different in each case.

  • There's no connection except that the word is the same.

  • Now, let's look at one more thing you should know about modal verbs.

  • What time are we supposed to be there?

  • Ten, I think, but I think we ought to aim to arrive at least fifteen minutes before.

  • So, that means we have to leave here atwhat?

  • Nine?

  • We'd better leave earlier, I think.

  • There's a metro strike tomorrow, so the traffic will be terrible.

  • Are we going to drive, or take a taxi?

  • I'm not sure we'll be able to find a taxi, so I think driving is best.

  • In the dialogue, you heard several examples of semi-modal verbs.

  • Do you know what these are?

  • Here are the sentences you heard.

  • So, what are semi-modal verbs?

  • Semi-modals have some of the features of modal verbs, but not all.

  • Most importantly, semi-modal verbs do the same thing as modal verbs.

  • They add information to other verbs.

  • They can express many of the same ideas, like obligation or giving advice.

  • They don't follow all the grammar rules of regular modal verbs.

  • For example, 'have to' is a semi-modal, and you can use it in different tenses: it

  • has a past tense, 'had to'; you can use it in the present perfect, 'I have had to…'

  • and so on.

  • Often, modals and semi-modals can be used with the same meaning.

  • Look at two sentences: 'It'll rain this afternoon.'

  • 'It's going to rain this afternoon.'

  • Here, you use 'going to', which is a semi-modal, to express certainty, in the same way that

  • you can use 'will'.

  • It doesn't matter which verb you