Modals are special semantic component of auxiliary verbs. The modal auxiliaries have a number of different meanings. Modal auxiliaries are used to give a degree of probability, to express speaker’s attitude, and to perform various social functions, such as expressing politeness or indirectness when making request, giving advice, or granting permission. In this case, every modals seems to have one phrasal modals and more. There are two kinds of modals, basic modals and phrasal modals.
Can , Could
May , Might
Should, Ought to, Had better
Be able to
Be permitted to, Be allowed to
Be about to, Be going to
Have to, Have got to
Be to, Be supposed to
1. Basic Modals
Basic modals are not followed by –s, even when the subject is he, she, or it
Example : He will come to my party tonight.
It is incorrect, he wills come to my party or he will comes to my party.
Basic modals are usually followed immediately by the simple form of a verb
Example : Shane can go abroad to Germany by scholarship.
It is incorrect, Shane can to go abroad to Germany by scholarship.
The only exception is ought, which is straightly followed by an infinitive (to + the simple form of a verb)
Example: Students ought to pass the exam since the questions are not really hard.
2. Phrasal Modals
Phrasal modals are common expression whose meanings are similar to those of some of the modal auxiliaries. In phrasal modals, an infinitive (to + simple form of verb) is used to express something.
Example : I must go to school earlier. I have to go to school earlier.
In this chapter, I consider to classify modals into the social function of modals to be use, and the logical probability of modals to be meaning.
II. Social Functions of Modals
A. Polite Request
Modals which used here are can, could, may, might, will, and would. Things that should be remember, ‘may, would, will, might and could’ are used to make a polite request. Meanwhile, can is used in informal request, especially when we are talking to someone we have known well. Might is also possible to be used, but it is much less frequently used than may or could. All of these modals are used in present time. Now see the usage of modals below.
Making request ( asking people to do something)
We often use ‘can, could, and would’ to ask someone to do something. Example :
• Can you help me ?
• Can you do me a favor ?
• Could you show me the way to the post office ?
• Would you lend me your car, please ?
Asking for something
We often use ‘can I have… ?/could I have… ?/may I have… ?’. Example :
• Can I have these candies ?
• Could I have your phone number ?
• May I have some more ice cube for my lemon tea ?
Asking for permission
We often use ‘can, could, and may’ to ask permission to do something. Example :
• Can I talk to you for a moment ?
• Could I take your novel home ?
• May I go out tonight, Mom ?
In another situation, we can also use ‘would you mind… ?’. Example :
• Would you mind if I leave you here alone ?
• Would you mind opening the window for me ?
The different between ‘would you mind if I… ?’ and ‘would you mind (V + ing)’ lies on its object. The first sentence shows that the person who leave is the speaker. And in the second sentence, the person who is asked to shut his/her mouth is another person.
We sometimes use ‘can or may’ to offer something. In this case, may is more formal. Example :
• Can I help you, dude ?
• May I tell you some more gossips about your girlfriend ?
We use ‘would you like…?’
• Would you come to my birthday party tomorrow ?
B. Expressing Necessity
Modals which can be used to express necessity are ‘must, has to/have to, and have got to’. But there is a difference among them. Must means, the speaker indicates urgency or stress importance . Because, there will be something bad happen if what speaker said is not fulfilled. Have to, actually shows a little bit weaker than must. It is more commonly used than must, it shows that the speaker need to do something. And the last one, have got to expresses the idea of necessity in informal English or spoken English.
• Mike must study hard to pass the mathematics exam.
• Mike has to study hard to pass the mathematics exam.
• Mike have got to study hard to pass the mathematics exam.
What emphasized here is the degree of necessity. First sentence, it shows that Mike doesn’t want to fail on his mathematics exam, so that he must study hard. In second statement, it expresses that if Mike wants to pass, he needs to study hard and it does not matter if he does not really want to study, it is merely become Mike’s business, the speaker is just simply saying ‘he needs to do that’ . And the third one, it has the same meaning with the second sentence. It is only primarily used in spoken English.
Sometimes, ‘have’ in third sentence is dropped in speech. It becomes, Mike got to study hard to pass the mathematics exam. And in other situation, when it is informal have to usually pronounced ‘hafta’, got to becomes ‘gotta’, and has to, ‘hasta’.
The statements above whole used in present time. Actually, to express necessity can be for future and past. For future, we can use have to/ have got to/ must, only the adverb of time that can be changed to show the future time. Meanwhile, to express the past time, we can use had to. Example:
• I must/ have to/ have got to clean my room tomorrow.
• I had to leave for Jakarta to continue my study in UIN Jakarta last year.
That are all the explanation of necessity, and how about the lack of necessity and prohibition ? To express something lack of necessity and prohibition, we have to be careful. Because when used in the negative, must and have to have different meaning. Do not have to means, it is not necessary for us to do something. And must not means, it is forbidden to do something. Example:
• You don’t have to spend your whole spare time to study, sometimes you need to refresh you mind.
• Key must not love him. He is a playboy and likes to drink much, he is crazy.
Advisability usually expressed by modals should, ought to, and had better. Should and ought to have the same meaning, but there’s a difference in using it. Should used to express a suggestion, and ought to used to express an important responsibility. Meanwhile had better has a meaning that is stronger than should or ought to, because the latter conveys special affect by sometimes suggesting the possibility of bad/unpleasant consequences. It has a present or future meaning, and commonly used in spoken English. Example :
• We should see our friend who is sick and hospitalized.
• You have to go now, he’s been waiting for you more than an hour.
• I had better stay at home, I got a headache.
If we want to use the negative form of this modals, we only put not after it. Should becomes should not (shouldn’t), and had better becomes had better not (‘d better not). Example :
• I shouldn’t let her go alone.
• You’d better not reveal his secret to anybody.
Ought to, in negative statement is rarely used. If it is used in negative form, the to is sometimes dropped, becomes ought not (oughtn’t).
Now check this one, should can also be used to express the past statement. When a statement uses the past form of should, ‘should have + past participle’, it means that the speaker regrets something that is not fulfilled by. Example:
• My brother is angry with me, because he didn’t get any gift from me on his birthday. I should have bought something for my brother, yesterday.
The negative form of it is ‘should not have’. Example:
• Jun Pyo shouldn’t have fought with Ji Hoo. They were a good friend, now they are starting to not get along each other.
The past form of ought to is ought to have + past participle, it has the same meaning with the past form of should. But, the past form of ought to is not common, and had better + past participle neither.
Modals can express expectation, especially with phrasal modal ‘be supposed to’. Example :
a. I am supposed to learn piano. My father is a famous pianist.
b. You are supposed to be here at 8 am, the class will be started at that right time.
c. Kevin was supposed to present me a special song last week, but suddenly I heard that he has just passed away.
In (a) the expectation is from father of speaker, it is about something about behavior. In (b) somebody expects the listener to come on time/ based on scheduled event. In (c) the speaker expected Kevin to present a special song, but it was not fulfilled. It is the past form of be supposed to.
E. Making Suggestion
We can use modals, could and should to make suggestion. Besides, we can also use let’s, why don’t, and shall. The usage of could and should is rather different, could used when there are other alternative suggestions from a speaker. In other side, should used when there is merely one suggestion. And the others, such let’s, why don’t, and shall also have different usage. Let’s and why don’t usually used in spoken English, but shall mainly used in formal and infrequent. Example :
• I could help you if you don’t really understand with this theory. Or you could ask to our teacher when you get confused with this.
• We should earn money this near month by ourselves.
• Let’s have a dinner.
• Why don’t you try to call your boyfriend ?
• Shall I drive your car ? Is that okay ?
If we want to express suggestion for the past time, we can use should have/ could have. Example:
• You should have returned the books to the library on time.
• You could have asked me before the class. Or you could have searched the lyrics through the internet. Or you could bought the magazine of SUJU special edition to find the lyrics you want to.
To express ability, we can use modals ‘can could, and be able to’. The usage of it is different. Can is used to say that something is possible to do something , something connected with the physical ability, and frequently used with these verbs: see, hear, smell, taste, feel, remember, understand. to express an acquired skill, to give permission in informal situations. If we want to use it in formal situations, it is better to use ‘may’. Could is used to say that someone had the general ability to do something. And the past form of be able to, ‘was/were able to’ is used when someone managed to do something in one particular situation. In negative sentences, we are able to use can’t or couldn’t. Couldn’t is used in every situations to express something that is connected with ability. Example:
• You can use a handy cam to record our special moment. (possibility)
• She can break the woods into two pieces. (physical ability)
• I can feel my heart beating quicker than the other days. (physical ability)
• Ye Sung can dance beautifully. (acquired skill)
• You may ask the salesclerk if there’s something you want to know about the latest mode of fashion. (formal situation)
• I am able to go to the beach next weekend. (ability)
• Justin Timberlake is a rapper, he could sing very fast. (general ability)
• Before Indonesia proclaimed its Independence Day, Japanese was able to kill Indonesian’s youth. (managed to do something in a particular situation)
• My elder sister couldn’t play tennis. (negative past form of can, inability/ politeness)
• I can’t speak French. (inability)
G. Repeated Action
To express something that is repeated, we can use ‘would’. It is express an action that was only regularly repeated in the past. And used to is to express an habitual situation that existed in the past. Example :
• When he was stressed, He would smoke under the big tree out of the crowds.
• I used to play hide and seek when I was a child.
Modals can also be used to make preference. To make a preference, we can use ‘would rather’ (the contraction form, ‘d rather). This can be used in past and progressive time. In past the form becomes would rather have + past participle, and in the progressive time it changes to be would rather + be + Ving. Example:
• I would rather live in Jakarta than Bandung.
• I’d rather have bought that dress before she bought it.
• I’d rather playing guitar than musing like an ignorant.
I. Combining Modals With Phrasal Modals
Modals and phrasal modals actually can be used in a statement. But a modal cannot be straightly followed by another modal (in this case, basic modals). Every basic modals can be followed by phrasal modal (be able to and have to). But phrasal modals can be straightly followed by phrasal modals. Example:
• I will have to leave to Berlin tomorrow morning.
• I will be able to dance as I am diligent to train myself.
• You must have been able to be a great teacher.
• She is going to be able to come to my house.
III. Logical Probability
Degrees of Certainty
In this chapter, degrees of certainty will be classified through its time. That are past time, present time, and future time.
Past Time Present Time Future Time
Was Is Will
Must have been Must Should
Less than 50% sure
May have been May Ought to
Might have been Might May
Could have been Could Might
It shows that the percentage is based on modals that is used. The main auxiliary lies in the top since they ensure whether something is totally right. And the modal auxiliaries express doubtful for some reasons. So that it is classified into 95% sure and less than 50% sure. Example :
• He was at home yesterday. (The speaker is sure that he was at home )
• He must have been at home yesterday. (The speaker is making a logical conclusion, almost sure. Since there were several reason/evidence that indicated why he was at home yesterday)
• He may be at home yesterday. (The speaker is mentioning a possibility/ guessing)
• He might be at home yesterday. (The speaker is mentioning a possibility/ guessing)
• He could be at home yesterday. (The speaker is mentioning a possibility/ guessing)
The meaning of these sentences above are also the same with the sentences below. The main auxiliary presents the real fact, and the modal auxiliaries (depends on the modals used) presents the lesser percentage of sureness.
• She always get what she wants, her father is very rich.
• She always get what she wants, her father must be very rich.
• She always get what she wants , her father may be very rich.
• She always get what she wants , her father might be very rich.
• She always get what she wants, her father could be very rich.
• Shane has just ordered a ticket, he will leave for London tomorrow.
• Shane has just ordered a ticket, he should leave for London tomorrow.
• Shane has just ordered a ticket, he ought to leave for London tomorrow.
• Shane has just ordered a ticket, he may leave for London tomorrow.
• Shane has just ordered a ticket, he might leave for London tomorrow.
But the table above is only used when the statement is positive. In contrast, if the statement is negative, the percentage is different especially to the past and present time . Look at the table below.
Past Time Present Time
Couldn’t have been Couldn’t be
Can’t have been Can’t be
Must not have been Must not be
Less than 50% sure
May not be May not have been
Might not be Might not have been
100% sure still belongs to the main auxiliary, is not and are not. The next percentage is 99% sure, it means that the speaker believes that something is impossible. Afterwards, 95% sure, it means that the speaker is trying to conclude the possible and logical of something that happened. And the last one, less than 50% sure, it means that the speaker is merely mention a possibility. Example:
• Schweinteiger wasn’t a football player. (The speaker knew that he was not)
• Schweinsteiger couldn’t have been a football player. (The speaker believes that it is impossible for Schweinsteiger to be a football player)
• Schweinsteiger can’t have been a football player. (The speaker believes that it is impossible for Schweinsteiger to be a football player)
• Schweinsteiger must not have been a football player. (The speaker can hardly believe that he could be a football player, in this point the speaker knew that he didn’t even able to play football)
• Schweinsteiger may not have been a football player. (The speaker is mentioning a possibility of Schweinsteiger)
• Schweinsteiger might not have been a football player. (The speaker is mentioning a possibility of Schweinsteiger)
• I am not in love with you. (The speaker sure that he/she is not in love since the listener is not even the type of the speaker’s)
• I couldn’t be in love with you. (The speaker is trying to convince herself that it is impossible if she love the listener)
• I can’t be in love with you. (The speaker is trying to convince herself that it is impossible if she love the listener)
• I must not be in love with you. (The speaker is making logical conclusion that he /she is not in love with. The speaker is collecting some evidences which can prove that he/she is not in love with the listener)
• I may not be in love with you. (The speaker is making logical conclusion that he /she is not in love with. The speaker is collecting some evidences which can prove that he/she is not in love with the listener)
• I might not be in love with you. (The speaker is making logical conclusion that he /she is not in love with. The speaker is collecting some evidences which can prove that he/she is not in love with the listener)
After the above explanation of past, present, and future time, now I will show you the progressive one. To express something which is in progress this right time, we can use ‘modals + be + Ving’, but if something wanted to express was happening in the past, we can use ‘modals + have been + Ving’. Example :
• She is in the mall, she must be spending whole of her money again.
• The lecturer might have been meeting with his close friend last night, that was why he didn’t answer your call, but he looks so much happier than the days before.
The first sentence expresses, the speaker almost sure that whenever she goes to the mall she is spending money. There is evidence that makes the speaker almost sure of it. And the second sentence, the speaker is guessing that the lecturer was in a meeting with his close friend, when the listener tried to call him over and over.
Modals are easy to use when we know how to use it correctly. No wonder, people always confused of the way to use it. As modals have several meanings and functions. But it will just become suggestive statement when you start to learn modals. To learn the basic rules of modals is not enough, we also have to master it. So that we can practice it in our daily life. That is all what I can explain to you. Wish this paper I have made, helped you to understand the modals auxiliary. I beg your pardon, if there are so many mistakes inside of this paper. Thank you.
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