Monday, July 2, 2012

MODAL VERBS: English really IS so easy...

Have you ever heard of a MODAL verb?  Check out this list and I'm sure you'll know if not recognize all of the following words:
  • can
  • could
  • will
  • would
  • may
  • might
  • shall (outdated and not frequently used other than the expression "Shall we?")
  • should
  • must
Modal verbs express the "gray area" of language, that is to say, when there is a condition, hypothesis, uncertainty, obligation or when the outcome of a situation is unknown. 
  • "I would go to Las Vegas if I had more money."(condition)
  • "If everyone had health insurance, the healthcare system would function more effectively. (hypothesis)
  • "She may leave early, although it depends on the weather."(uncertainty)
  • "I should write a follow up thank you email after the interview." (obligation)
Modal verbs also express ability, permission, polite requests, rules and advice.  Modal verbs give us a way to speak indirect, polite English.
  • "He can speak Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, French and a little Japanese." (ability)
  • "Can use the restroom?" (permission)
  • "Could you please pass the salt?"  "Give me the salt." (polite request)   
  • "You should learn how to speak more languages because it will make you a better candidate in the job market."  (advice)
  • "You must not smoke within 300 feet of the entrance of this building." (rule)

...SO, WHY is English so easy?

English is easy because modal verbs (just like regular past tense verbs) do not have conjugations (changes) for singular or plural voices, unlike many other languages in which verbs change with each subject pronoun.  Modal verbs have no conjugation whatsoever; neither the modal verb nor the simple verb changes, as you can see in the following model:

subject pronoun                    +modal                                              +simple verb

(I/You/He/She/It/We/They)     (CAN/ COULD/ WILL/ WOULD...)    ( GO/ DO/ BE/LIKE...) 

As you can see, the modal and simple verbs do not change with the subject pronoun:

Ex.  I will go.  He will go.  They will go.
       Should she pay?  Should I pay?  Should they pay?
       You must not say a word!  She must not say a word!  We must not say a word!

Practicing modal verbs is easy because you never have to conjugate the verb.  Use this to your advantage when speaking English!

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