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Learn English > English lessons and exercises > English test #108430: Can/could/may... Must/have to...
Can/could/may... Must/have to...
After studying and making a difference between the modals expressing the uncertainty of an action test, we are now going to study other nuances of the modal auxiliaries concerning the freedom of action of a subject.
1) CAPACITY and FREEDOM the SUBJECT has to ACT (or not):
* Physical or intellectual Capacity (in the present or in the past); CAN is the modal auxiliary expressing physical and intellectual capacity; in the negative, CAN'T expresses physical and intellectual incapacity.
ex: The robot can move its lips in time with the words (physical capacity) and it can speak six different foreign languages ...(intellectual capacity).
ex: Melissa couldn't speak about her dilemma to anyone. (= incapacity in the past)
2) PERMISSION (may/can): THE FREEDOM OF ACTION (to act, or not to act) is expressed with 'MAY', and refusal will be built with CAN'T.
Can I borrow your book, please? is less polite than 'May I borrow ... ?' or 'Could I borrow ...?'
ex: Yes, Kevin, you may leave the table now, but you can't leave the house!
3) OBLIGATION or INTERDICTION: in both cases, the FREEDOM of ACTION is denied.
* MUST indicates an obligation felt by the speaker:
ex: I must go now, as I still have a lot of homework to do.
* HAVE TO insists on pure facts and regulations:
ex: You have to leave now ! No visits after six !
* The absence of necessity minimizes the restriction of freedom. It can be expressed in three different, but equivalent, ways:
ex: You needn't bring your own book!( = IN THE PRESENT)
ex: You didn't need to bring your own book! (in another tense than the present) OR You didn't have to bring your own book!
Now, you're ready for the test ! Go for it !
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