Questions from teachers about English grammar and usage

Moderator: Susan

Alvin Ray Ramos
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Sep 20, 2008 8:21 am


Unread post by Alvin Ray Ramos » Sat Sep 20, 2008 9:07 am

Good day my fellows!

I am an Education student majoring in English but I am still confused with the usage of the various MODALS. I know what are they but I am caught up on how to use them.

Would you mind helping me compare and contrast the following modals that students usually interchange?

Can VS Could
May VS Might
Will VS Would
Shall VS Should
Must VS Need

I Hope that you can find time helping me with this . . .

Prolific Member
Prolific Member
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Sep 23, 2008 11:48 am

Re: Modals

Unread post by marcchehab » Tue Sep 23, 2008 12:35 pm

Hello Sir

I hope to be of service to you. Here are a few of my thoughts on these modal verbs. I work with Cambridge's 'Advanced Grammar in Use' by Martin Hewings, ISBN: 978-0-521-61403-0.


CAN implies that something is possible and actually happens or is going to happen, whereas COULD is used theoretically.

It could be expensive to have a car. (= if we had one, there would be a possibility of it being expensive)
It can be expensive to have a car. (= it can be, and it sometimes is)

We can stay with my friend. (= we will be able to stay)
We could stay with my friend. (= it's possible; if he's there at all)

Questions really make this difference obvious I think:
'Can I help you?' is polite and correct, but you would say 'Could you help me?'. 'Can' means you are able to help and would like to be of service. 'Could' means you are fully aware that the person you ask might not want or be able to help you and you want to politely disarm this possibly embarrassing situation.

Some of the differences of the other modal verbs go into the same direction. However, not NEED VS MUST. I have never come across this question and am running out of time for the moment. I might revise this post later.

Prolific Member
Prolific Member
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Sep 23, 2008 11:48 am

Re: Modals

Unread post by marcchehab » Sun Sep 28, 2008 12:26 pm

Hello again

Like I said, here are a few lines on NEED VS MUST.

NEED can be used as an ordinary verb and as a modal verb. The modal verb does not change its tense. It is most common to use the negative.

Modal verbs:
You need not worry, you will be all right.
You need not speak so loudly.

Ordinary Verb:
I need a drink.

So NEED usually, please correct me if I am mistaken, talks about whether or not there is a need or reason to do what you are doing. The negative, as said, being common, can give permission not do to something and can say that there is little reason to do like you are doing.

You need not whisper. You need not cut the grass.

However, MUST and NEED can be similar in the following sentences:
I must meet Susanne.
I need to meet Susanne.

I would put forward, yet to be discussed, that NEED has notion of the speaker deciding, whereas MUST, as well as HAVE TO talk about a, most likely external, obligation.

What do you think?

Post Reply