Using The Right Modals To Prevent Misunderstanding Between You And Others

Using Modals To Express Ideas Correctly

Using modals to prevent misunderstading

Upon reaching home one afternoon, your mother tells you: "Your younger brother has to submit his science project tomorrow, but he has hurt himself." Which of these answers do you think your mother would like best? would like least?
  1. I could help him.
  2. I might help him.
  3. I should help him.
To find out, study this guide carefully. First take the pretest.

Pretest
  1. One young boy asked the chairman of the contest, "(May, Might) I take the last seat?"
  2. The chairman answered, "Of course. I (can, could) see you from there, anyway."
  3. A girl contestant, hearing the man's answer, hinted if she (can, could) move to the back row, too.
  4. "You (shall, could) not be afraid to sit in front," the chairman answered.
  5. "Besides," he continued, "I (may, might) miss you if you're in the back row."
Let us go back to the three sentences given at the start of this guide.
  1. I could help him.
  2. I might help him.
  3. I should help him.
You may have noted that could, might, and should are the past forms of the verbs can, may, and shall. However, in this study guide, you will find out that could, might, and should can also be used in the present time.

The words, could, might, and should are called modal auxiliaries. They are special verbs, which, when combined with the simple forms of the verbs express various meanings. The present forms of these auxiliaries are can, may, and shall. Can is called a verb of ability. May is called a verb of possibility. Shall when used sometimes shows something that has the force of law. This is exemplified by the sentence: All schools shall aim to develop the duties of citizenship. However, in this study guide, you will find out that could, might, and should can also be used in the present time.

The chart that follows can show you how each modal is used:

Of these answers, which would your mother like best? If you say Sentence 3, your are right. The word shall in Sentence 3 expresses an obligation, a duty. You know that your brother needs your help, and so you consider it your duty to help him.

How about if your answer, "I could help him"? The word could expresses a possibility. It means that you may be able to help him, but the choice is yours. There is no obligation involved in Sentence 1.

The answer that your mother would possibly like the least is Sentence 2 - "I might help him." The word might indicates a possibility also. However, this possibility is remote; that is, there is a bigger chance that you  won't be able to help your younger brother. If you give this sort of answer, not only will you most likely anger your mother, you may also hurt your brother's feelings.

It is important that you know when to use could, might, and should. Knowing how to use them correctly will prevent misunderstanding between you and others.

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