Unit 6.2

Modals of Probability

Modal Verbs

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Introduction

Modals of deduction and speculation are also called modals of probability. We find them when we want to make a guess about something.

Different modals can be used depending on how sure we are about a situation.

Form

The most commonly used modals of probability are can, could, may and must.

Their structures are:

  • Can/Can’t + infinitive;
  • Could/could not + infinitive;
  • May/may not + infinitive;
  • Might/might not + infinitive;
  • Must + infinitive;
  • Should/should not + infinitive;

Example

  • He can’t go to school because there is a heavy snowfall outside.
  • She couldn’t paint this wall with watercolours.
  • Environmental problems and natural disasters may create problems for people.
  • There might be traffic on the main road because of the festival.
  • Nuclear energy must be harmful for the environment.
  • Thunders and lightnings should make noise.

Use

We use modals of probability when we talk about a present situation.

We use:

  • Can: to talk about something that happens sometimes, something possible;
  • Could, May/might/: for probabilities and predictions;
  • Must: when we are sure about something;
  • Should: to make a guess about something that is likely to happen.

Summary

Modals of probability, also called modals of deduction and speculation, are used when we want to make a guess about something. Different modals of probability can be used depending on how sure we are about a present situation.

The most commonly used modals of probability are can, could, may and must.

We use:

  • Can/ can’t followed by a verb in the infinitive form, to talk about something that happens sometimes, something possible;
  • Could/couldn’t, may/may not/might/might not followed by a verb in the infinitive form, to talk about probabilities and predictions;
  • Must followed by a verb in the infinitive form, when we are sure about something;
  • Should/should not followed by a verb in the infinitive form, to make a guess about something that is likely to happen.

For example:
— “I may not be on time tomorrow for dinner, because we will have a meeting at work.” = I am predicting that I will be late for dinner tomorrow.
— “He must be at work now.” = I am sure that he is at work now. {see Must and Cannot: Modals of Deduction, B1 level}

Let’s revise this content within the {Form} section. Take a look at the {Example} section that shows its use within a context.

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