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They are grammatical formatives: may, can, must, will, shall, need, dare
Lexical modal verbs: to be able to, to be allowed to, to be permitted to, to have to, etc.

A. Major syntactic properties:

Inversion with the subject. This is a property they have in common with auxiliaries
which also exhibit Subject-Auxiliary Inversion (SAI): Must I come?
Negative by adding not or nt: I cant go. / I cannot go.
Appear in codas: He can swim and so can she.
Emphatic affirmation: He will be there.
They are defective verbs: Present and Past forms; infrequently used as past forms but
used as Subjunctives;
Lack s in the third person singular;
They are always followed by a short (bare) infinitive: I must go. / *I must to go.
They are also characterized by the absence of non-finite forms.
They do not exhibit co-occurrence: *I may will come.

B. Morpho-syntactic features:

In the case of adding negation to the modal we may have two interpretations:
o [modal verb + not] + V in the infinitive = external negation
May I go out? No, you may not.
Deontic meaning = interpersonal relations (permission, prohibition, obligation)
o modal verb + [ not + V in the infinitive] = internal negation
It may or it may not rain tomorrow.
Epistemic meaning = the degree of probability of a fact (possible, certain,

C. Grammatical features (can, may, must, need):

The deontic meanings require personal subjects.

You may come in. (permission) deontic
The train may come into the station. (possibility) epistemic
For deontic modal verbs in Indirect Speech, the Past tense forms act as real past
He told me that I might come in.
The train might come in. (= with epistemic meanings the past tense forms
chiefly function as subjunctives)
The deontic forms are chiefly used with the simple infinitive while the epistemic verbs
allow all the forms of the infinitive.
He must do it (now). = obligation = deontic (simple infinitive)
He must be doing it. = probability = epistemic (infinitive progressive)
He must have done it by now. = certainty = epistemic. (perfect infinitive)
The source of the modality:
o Discourse oriented modalities (internal modalities). The modality emanates
from one of the two discourse participants.
You may leave now! (= I allow you to leave)
May I leave? (=Do you allow me to leave?)
o External modalities.
Women must cover their head in church. (must = not discourse oriented)


Present and future reference: He must do it now / next week.
In Indirect Speech: He told me I must do it now.
Source of modality:
1) Discourse oriented: Must I do it now?
2) Inner strong desire: I must work harder.
3) External verb: Children must be polite to their parents.

You must do it at once.

MUST = performative verb = conveys facts that are extralinguistic
I oblige you to do it.
(deontic performative = discourse oriented)
Children must be polite to their parents.
(deontic reading, but not performative)
You must come and see me.
(invitation or advice, an obligation which is to the advantage of the interlocutor)

MUST may be replaced by: HAVE TO, BE TO.

He was to come.

Negation of MUST:
a) internal (obligation not to do = prohibition to do): mustnt, must not.
b) external obligation (absence of obligation): neednt, need not, dont have to.

Indirect directives: (polite requests = performative requests)

Must you come so late?
Must you make that noise? = (Stop making that noise.) (You have no reason to make
that noise)
MUST + a performative verb
I hereby cancel your promotion.
(a degree of power to the disfavour of the interlocutor)
I must cancel your promotion. (= hedge performative must)
(must suggests that the speaker is under an obligation)


If it is a bird, it must have wings.
Epistemic must may be used with the progressive or simple infinitive to render present or
future time reference:
He must be learning. (= something is probably going on now)
He must learn.
Past time reference is achieved by means of the perfect infinitive:
He must have done it in his childhood.
He must be sleeping.
He cant be sleeping.
He neednt be sleeping. (= soft negation)
Probability vs. HAVE TO.
He must be crazy to do it. (= inductive probability.)
He has to be crazy to do it. (= deductive probability)

we get information by: acquaintance description
more or less inductive deductive
factual indirect information
theoretical necessity


- a disposition property; what the subject can do generically
He can swim/walk/speak English/run the mile in 10 seconds.
Time reference: only present
*He can walk tomorrow.
Past time reference: could, be able to. in negative and interrogative sentences
In affirmative sentences:
- be able to, mange to are used for successful accomplishment on one specific
I was able to see her yesterday.
- could shows generic ability in the past.
When I was a kid I could skip the rope / run faster.
He could speak fluently when he was two.
Related uses:
- can + physical (mental) perception. = aspectual device; to actualize a state:
I can remember / understand now.
His nutty sister says she hears voices telling her she is Venus.
His nutty sister says she can hear voices telling her she is Venus. (=suggests that the
ability is indeed real)
- can = used to suggest sporadic ability.
Students can be nice.
She can be nasty.
- pragmatic uses:
a) request: Can you step off my toes, please?
b) statement form: You could be a little more polite to your parents.
c) with performative verbs: I can tell you hes lying! (= I am telling you) -
hedge performative can


- preferred in negative sentences.
Both can and could have present and future reference.
- could used in Subjunctives = more polite / and as past tense
Could I go out today? No, you cant.
Father said you couldnt.

c) POSSIBILITY CAN (EPISTEMIC) = stronger than probability

- both can and could have future reference
Past time reference with perfect infinitive
It could have happened.
In colloquial speech: in negative sentences, while may occurs in affirmatives and
- can appears in rhetorical questions.
Who can be such a coward as to betray his soul?
- in scientific discourse epistemic can in affirmative sentences.
The temperature can rise to 100 degrees Celsius.
The disease can have fatal consequences.
If you could obtain this result then the conclusion was correct.
- may expresses factual possibility
Negation is external: (= impossibility)
This cannot be achieved.

a) EPISTEMIC MAY (POSSIBILITY = inductive, factual)
The pound may be devalued. (empirical coverage)
The pound can be devalued. (empty statement)
Inductive possibility
You might as well do it now.
He might as well be dead for all the help Im getting for him.
- can/may = strengthened by well, possibly
He could possibly be her brother.
He can well be the murderer.
He might well have gone there.
Negation of may: internal.
He may or may not be the author of this play.
It may or may not rain tomorrow.


- may may be discourse oriented:
May I come in? (= Do you allow me to come in?)
No, you may not / cant / mustnt.
Negation = external.
Such activities may not be carried on in this country.
- might = with past value in Indirect Speech. It is a tentative, polite form.
Might / May I go out? (might more polite than may)
c) It looks as if there is a ROOT ABILITY MAY but it is less important.
Love those than may, weep those that can.
Rice may grow tall in warm countries.
1. Use the perfect infinitive of the verb in italics with a suitable modal:

e.g. Ive never seen a London Policeman! / You see one! Youve been in London a week
ANSWER: You must have seen one!
I heard the phone ringing in the flat above yours. / You not hear their phone ringing. They
havent got a phone.
ANSWER: You couldnt have heard their phone ringing.

1) Ive written to Paul. You not write. Hes coming here tomorrow. Youll see him before he
gets your letter.
2) They build a two-storey house (this was the original plan), but money ran out so they built
a bungalow instead.
3) If the dog hadnt woken us we not notice the fire for several hours, and by that time it
spread to the house next door.
4) Ann: Why didnt you wait for me yesterday?
Tom: I waited five minutes.
Ann: You wait a little longer!
5) How did Peter get there?
He come on a motorcycle. (This is a possibility.)
He not come on a motorcycle. He doesnt ride one.
He come hitch-hiking.
6) Why are you so late? You be here two hours ago!
7) If Id known wed have to wait so long I bring a book!
If Id known it was going to be so cold I not come at all!
8) Tom (looking out of the window): Fortunately that teapot didnt hit anyone, but you not
throw it out of the window, Ann! You kill someone.
9) Look at this beautiful painting! Only a very great artist paint such a picture! Nonsense! A
child of five paint it with his eyes shut!
10) I wonder how the fire started! Oh, someone drop a lighted cigarette. Or it be an electrical
11) There is only one set of footprints, so the kidnapper carry his prisoner out. He not do it in
daylight or he be seen. He wait till dark.

2. Look at the following sentences and identify those that express degrees of likelihood
(certainty, probability, or possibility). Categorize the remaining sentences in terms of
what their modals express (obligation, permission, ability and willingness).

1) You can borrow the car, I dont need it.

2) He can still be at the office, its after 9 oclock.
3) I cant hear you very well, the lines bad.
4) That wont be the postman at the door, hes been already.
5) Will you give me a hand with this? Its so heavy.
6) Johns awful. He simply wont admit that hes made a mistake!
7) A: Whats that scratching noise?
B: Dont worry. Itll be the cat trying to get in.
8) Hell be at the airport by now.
9) No, you may not leave before the end.
10) We may be in for a rough crossing, theres a storm coming.
11) He might change his mind, if we keep on at him.
12) You mustnt give up yet, try just once more.
13) He always looks so exhausted, he must have a very demanding job.
14) If you hurry up, we could be there by 6.
15) You should drive more slowly round there; its a dangerous corner.
16) You should have no trouble passing, its you best subject.

3. Fill in the gap by putting the concept expressed by the modal verb in form (i) into the

1. (i) She can ski very well.

(ii) She really well when she was five.
2. (i) I can finish it by Friday, but it wont be easy.
(ii) I it by Friday, but it wasnt easy.
3. (i) John cant live here. This is the wrong street.
(ii) Shakespeare in that house. It wasnt built until 1840.
4. (i) May I leave the room? I dont feel well.
(ii) I the room because I didnt feel well.
5. (i) I must check the oil before we leave.
(ii) I the oil before we left.
6. (i) It must be raining. Everyone has their umbrella up.
(ii) It . The ground is wet.
7. (i) Thank you very much. You neednt give me a lift, but its very kind.
(ii) You me a lift, but it was very kind.
8. (i) He neednt collect me from the station. Ill walk.
(ii) He me from the station. I walked.
9. (i) Why dont you take the exam? You might pass.
(ii) Why didnt you take the exam? You .
10. (i) He should stop smoking before its too late.
(ii) He smoking before it was too late.
11. (i) I could visit you next Sunday.
(ii) I you last Sunday. Why didnt you ask me?
12. (i) Theres the phone. Itll be Paul.
(ii) Did he have a deep voice? It Paul.
13. (i) Hell sit in the armchair for hours, staring into space.
(ii) He in the armchair for hours, staring into space.
14. (i) Lets take the map. We may get lost.
(ii) I wonder where they are. They .

4. Look at this unnatural monologue. Replace the words in italics with the appropriate
modals to make it sound more natural:

Wonderful, its Sunday and (a) not necessary for me to get up at 7 oclock. (b) Ill
possibly stay in bed a bit longer although (c) I think the children are probably awake now and
Ill (d) be obliged to get their breakfast soon. They (e) refuse to make it for themselves. (f) It
would be a good idea for me to get up immediately because (g) perhaps they will wreck the
house. However, it is still very early and they (h) are probably not very hungry yet. (i) It
would have been a good idea if I had put out the corn-flakes and milk yesterday evening. But
all this thinking and not acting is really silly! (j) It is really necessary for me to get up this
minute. Now where are my bedroom slippers? That lousy dog (k) has probably hidden them
again! (l) It would be a good idea for us to train it better, but I suppose we (m) werent
obliged to buy it in the first place, and after all, its only a puppy.
Oh, Id forgotten! (n) Its just possible that Alan will be back from his business trip
today marvelous! One adult isnt enough to look after four children, a puppy and three
goldfish! Why (o) did he refuse to take me with him? (p) It was possible for us to get his
mother to come and look after the children. Never again!


Thou shall not kill!
- discourse oriented: obligation, volition that emanates for the speaker and is imposed on
someone else.
(shall is dying out)
Shall I do it now? (= Must I do it now? / Do you want me to do it now?)
Shall he wait for you? (= Do you want him to wait for you?)
You shall get the doll. / You shall have the money. / You shant come out with a
whole skin this time. (expressing promises and threats, by the authority of the speaker)
- shall is used in formal discourse (legalese, rhetorical types of discourse. It is felt as obsolete,
out of date)
A player who bids incorrectly shall forfeit 25 points.
Earth shall / will be filled with Gods glory.
- should may be a past tense in Indirect Speech for all the uses of shall and in if-clauses
(modal verbs have Subjunctive forms)
He asked me whether he should wait for me.
If he would lend me money. If he could come in time.

Will you do it? Would you do it?
Will you be doing it? (in the nature of things / future as a matter of course)
- when it is stressed, it expresses strong volition, obstinacy, stubbornness
I asked him to do it but he wouldnt listen.
Why will you always come late.


Oil will float on water.
Accidents will happen.
Boys will be boys.
He will be at home at this time of the day.
Shops will be closed now.
That will be the postman.
He would often come to visit her. (frequentative would)
- they have all properties of epistemic verbs + perfect / progressive infinitive
He will have arrived by now.
I thought he would be sleeping.
5. Analyse the modal verbs below:

1) Yes, I must say, its a lovely day so far. 2) Ive known whole week-ends when
Muldoon manor might as well have been floating on a pack of ice, for all the goof it would
have done phoning the police. 3) I will tell them you are here. I cant really stay as a
matter of fact, please dont disturb them. I really should be off. 4) I think I must be waiting
for Higgs to die, half afraid that Ill vanish when he does. 5) You must have got the wrong
number. 6) Honestly, darling, you really are extraordinary. You must have been desperate to
see me - I am flattered but

6. Write 1 beside the verb WOULD if it refers to a past habit and 2 if it refers to a

a) Every night when I was a child, one of my parents ( ) would read me a story, then the
other ( ) would hold my hand until I fell asleep.
b) I come from quite a poor background. If my parents ever had any money, which was rare,
they ( ) would pay all their debts and try to clothe us kids.
c) The couple looked around their new house, excited yet anxious. It ( ) would be a long
time before everything was how they wanted.
d) When I was younger, I ( ) would stay up night after night going to parties, but I find I
need my sleep these days.
e) Before stepping into the plane, she looked around wistfully at the country she had grown
to love. She wanted to savour every last sensation. It ( ) would be a long time before she
came back.

7. Fill the gap in the second sentence by putting the concept expressed by the modal verb
in the first sentence into the negative:

a) The painting must have been stolen.

The painting ! Its too big to get out of the room!
b) If the traffic isnt too bad, he could be here by 3.00.
He here until 5.00 if he gets stuck in a jam.
c) You must work hard!
You so hard! Youre a millionaire!
d) You must work hard!
You so hard! Cant you see youre killing yourself?
e) I need to see a doctor.
You doctor. A chemist can prescribe something for you.

8. Insert could or was/were able to:

1) He was very strong; he ski all day and dance all night.
2) The car plunged into the river. The driver get out but the passengers were drowned.
3) I was a long way from the stage. I see all right but I hear very well. (neg.)
4) We borrow umbrellas; so we didnt get wet.
5) you walk or did they have to carry you?
6) I had no key so I lock the door. (neg.)
7) I knew the town so I advise him where to go.
8) When the garage had repaired our car we continue our journey.
9) At five years old he read quite well.
10) The swimmer was very tired but he reach the shore before he collapsed.



HAVE TO / HAVE GOT TO: same meaning as MUST.


In the service you have to obey the orders of your superiors. / Shell have to sleep in the
kitchen. / You have to be back by ten. / There has to be some reason for his absurd behaviour.
/ You have to be crazy to do a thing like this. / There has to be a way out. / He had to have
passed the examination by ten.
HAVE TO is conjugated with DO; I dont have to do it now, but I want to do it.
Temporal reference: all tenses and moods.
Future reference: MUST is used when the obligation is felt as existing at the present
moment; HAVE TO is used when the obligation exists only in the future eventually, as a
consequence of some other event:
If we miss the last bus, well have to walk.
In colloquial style HAVE /HAD GOT TO may replace HAVE / HAD TO reinforcing
the idea of external authority which characterizes HAVE TO normally. HAVE TO tends to be
used in general, habitual statements, while HAVE GOT TO and MUST may be preferred in
statements referring to particular occasions:
I have to feed the baby three times a day.
I must / have got to feed the baby now.
MUST / HAVE TO differ in use; unlike must, have to does not involve the speakers
authority (or the hearers); it expresses external obligation = the subject is bound to do
something because it is the only possible course of action, because it is his duty.
You must / have to answer the questions.
You must / have to see this film.

In the second place MUST is factual (the obligativity of some fact), HAVE TO is
theoretical (the obligativity of some idea). HAVE TO is thus stronger as theoretical necessity;
it implies that the opposite state of affairs cannot even be conceived of. Compare:
Someone must be telling lies. (mere suspicion)
Someone has got to be telling lies. (sounds more like an accusation)

Note again the sarcastic questions:

Do we have to have jam rolls and coffee every day?

NEED: Like must, it is discourse oriented. This verb is chiefly used in negative and
interrogative sentences, where it functions as the counterpart of must. It also appears in
affirmative sentences if the context is non-assertive:
All you need to do is go there and pay the money.
I need hardly tell you that it was a most gratifying experience.
I wonder if I need be present. / He need have no fear. / You need only ask.
Questions: NEED is used especially if a negative answer is expected (these questions are
Must she come tomorrow? (open question)
Need she come tomorrow? (hoping for a negative answer)
Need I learn all that? No, you neednt.
Deontic NEEDNT expresses absence of obligation:
You neednt take this medicine any more.

b) EPISTEMIC NEED (infrequent):

I need look changed, for I have been through much suffering, both in mind and body.
When I think of what he went through, he need be made of iron to stand here and talk
about it.
He neednt be Mr. Brown. (= Nu este neaprat ca el s fie dl. Brown.)

TO NEED parallels HAVE TO in expressing external obligation, and in being more

suited to express general, habitual actions:
Do I have / need to show him my ID card every time?
Must I / have I got to show him my pass now?
You neednt come if you dont want to. (I allow you not to come.)
You dont need to see a doctor, youre really healthy. (It isnt necessary for you to see
a doctor.)
I dont have to work on Sundays. (Im not obliged to.)
I dont need to get up till eight to get to work.
NEEDNT HAVE + past participle (perfect infinitive) = absence of obligation which was
fulfilled (accomplished action):
I neednt have gone there. (entailment: but I did.)
DIDNT NEED TO: real past absence of obligation:
I didnt need to go there. (entailment: and I didnt.)

9. Insert must or the present, future, or past form of have to:

1) She leave home at eight every morning at present.

2) Notice in a picture gallery: Cameras and umbrellas be left at the desk.
3) He sees very badly; he wear glasses all the time.
4) I do all the typing at my office.
5) You read this book. Its excellent.
6) The children play in the streets till their mothers get home from work.
7) She felt ill and leave early.
8) Mr. Pitt cook his own meals. His wife is away.
9) I didnt have enough money and I pay by cheque.
10) I never remember his address; I always look it up.
11) Employer: You come to work in time.
12) If you go to a dentist with a private practice you pay him quite a lot of money.
13) Father to small son: You do what Mummy says.
14) My neighbours child practice the piano.
15) Mother to daughter: You come in earlier at night.
10. Use must not or need not to fill in the blanks:

1) You ring the bell; I have a key.

2) Notice in cinema: Exit doors be locked during performances.
3) You drink this; it is poison.
4) We drive fast; we have plenty of time.
5) You drive fast; theres a speed limit here.
6) Candidates bring books into the examination room.
7) You write to him for he will be here tomorrow.
8) We make any noise or well wake the baby.
9) You bring an umbrella. Its not going to rain.
10) You do all the exercises. Ten sentences will be enough.
11) We reheat the pie. We can eat it cold.
12) Mother to child: You tell lies.
13) You turn on the light; I can see very well.
14) You strike a match; the room is full of gas.
15) You talk to the other candidates during the exam.

11. Replace the underlined words by need not / need I / etc. or a negative or interrogative
have to form:

1) It isnt necessary for him to go on working. He has already reached retiring age.
2) Was it necessary for you to wait a long time for your bus?
3) It isnt necessary for me to water my tomato plants every day.
4) It will be necessary for them to get up early when they go out to work every day.
5) We had to stop at the frontier but we were not required to open our cases.
6) It wasnt necessary to walk. He took us in his car.
7) My employer said. I shant require you tomorrow.
8) It is never necessary for me to work on Saturdays.
9) When I am 18 Ill be of age. Then it wont be necessary to live at home if I dont want to.
10) Father to son: It is not necessary for you to call me, Father; call me Alfred.
11) Will it be necessary for us to report this accident to the police?
12) When you buy something on the installment system you are not required to pay the whole
price at once.
13) Is it essential for you to finish tonight?
14) Is it necessary for people to go everywhere by boat in Venice?
15) Will it be necessary for me to sleep under a mosquito net?