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Expressing Uncertainty : may-might-must...
Modals are quite tricky to handle for foreigners who try to find equivalents (and, most of the times, can't) in their own languages.
A modal isn't 'a normal verb'! It is an auxiliary helping to give opinions and judgements on actions. Each modal has its 'value or nuance', conditioning the choice of the different modals. In this lesson, we'll concentrate on the degree of certainty, or uncertainty of an action and on what auxiliary to choose.
DEGREES OF CERTITUDE
|AUXILIARIES and EXAMPLES.|
| It's almost certain.|
- She must have refused your invitation!
| It's a little less certain|
- She will refuse your invitation
| It's really less certain (1)|
|It's really less certain, but 'possible' (2)|
- She may refuse your invitation.
| It's really less certain, though 'possible' (3)|
- She could refuse your invitation.
| It's really very uncertain|
She might refuse your invitation.
|It's inconceivable, impossible |
- She can't refuse your invitation.
- She can't have refused your invitation.
- She refused your invitation.
= She didn't accept your invitation.
BEWARE! if I say: - 'Susan may have opened this door finally!'
It will be very difficult for French-speaking students, and some others, to understand that in their languages, 'an impersonal subject ' is used whereas in English, it will have to be 'replaced' by the personnel subject = 'Susan'.
Besides, if I change the tense of the verb in French, I make the action less probable, then I express a greater doubt and the uncertainty of the assertion is of course stronger:
=> - 'Susan might have opened this door after all, but her father may have done it ... I don't know!'
Similarly, foreign students often have difficulties to make a good choice between had to (value = obligation in the past) and must have (a near certainty).
They are expressed in the same way in some languages and can only be chosen thanks to the context enlightening the meaning.
=> - ' Susan had to open the door because the dog was barking to come in!' ( the value 'obligation in the past' doesn't really interest us here)
In the other case, a near certainty in the past will be expressed as follows:
=> -' Susan must have opened the door, because she was the only one to have the key.'
In the following test, you are going to work, from the modal auxiliary to its 'value' , THEN from 'the value of the modal' to the choice of the auxiliary. You should be able, or rather, you MUST be able to make the right choice !In N° 1 give the value/nuance of the modal that was used. On the contrary, in the following N, give the verbal and modal form corresponding to the required 'nuance/value'. Quite easy if you have learnt the lesson...
Go for it !
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