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Skill Builders: Grammar ­ Modals of Speculation I



What are modals of speculation? Modals of speculation are modal auxiliary verbs which express degrees of certainty. In other words, they describe a fact or situation that is definite, probable, possible, or impossible from the speaker's point of view. (As the speaker is speculating, he/she may be wrong.) Here we'll focus on speculating about present or future events. For example: I may buy a new computer this summer, if I can afford it. He might go back to school for his Master's Degree next year, but he hasn't decided yet. What is the sentence structure? The sentence structure is as follows: subject | modal verb | (negation) | main verb | object/complement He | must | (not) | be | very happy. Sandy | may | (not) | study | abroad next fall. The main verb is always in the plain form, even when the sentence expresses the future. How are modals of speculation used? Commonly used modals for present and future events include the following:

definite - 100% must will may may not might might not could impossible - 0% must not will not could not

Must /will express a definite situation, and must not /will not /could not an impossible one. On the other hand, may /may not /might /might not /could aren't as clear. The conversation and intonation may subtly change the meaning. However, may /may not are more certain than might /might not /could, and these last three modals express a weak probability. must: + He must really enjoy life because he always has a smile on his face. - He must not (mustn't) be very happy if he always has a frown. will: + If the US signs the Kyoto Protocol, greenhouse gases will significantly drop. - Many industrialized countries will not (won't) stop polluting the environment! Heads Up English

Skill Builders: Grammar ­ Modals of Speculation I

Upper-Intermediate may: + Sandy may study abroad next fall, but only if she gets good grades this spring. - If Sandy doesn't get good grades this spring, she may not study abroad next fall.

might: + Although we might have cars that fly in 50 years, I doubt it. - Gasoline-powered transportation might not exist in 50 years. We'll use electric cars. could: + I could vote for in the next election if one of the candidates interests me. - Jim just loves President Bush. He could not (couldn't) ever vote for a Democrat. Is there additional information on modals of speculation? There are a few more important points to consider. First, modal verbs never take a third-person singular s, as in: If it snows this afternoon, Tim coulds be late. In addition, modal verbs are always followed by a verb in the plain or bare infinitive form, never to + verb. So the following sentence is wrong: Time could to be late. Lastly, the contraction of might not is mightn't. However, this is rarely used nowadays and should generally be avoided.


Here is an activity to practice using modals of speculation correctly.

She ____________ want to go to the party because ______________________________ _________________________________________________________________________ . Curt ____________ hit the books with a tutor because ___________________________ _________________________________________________________________________ . Andy ____________ vote in the next election if ______________________________ _________________________________________________________________________ . Governments ____________ pollute less because _______________________________ _________________________________________________________________________ .

Heads Up English


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Microsoft Word - speculationone.doc