Modal verbs do not narrate the real time. Their manner is relative to real time. We also could say they mediate between the grammatical Time and Aspect. The name “modal” comes from the Latin word “modus”, meaning an extent or measure, too.

In ■→CHAPTER 2, we viewed the verb form “will” in our Fields of Time. The form itself did not belong clearly with the grammatical PRESENT or FUTURE. The same is true about all Modal verbs.

The PRESENT form of the verb WILL can map on the FUTURE, but the PAST form can tell about the PRESENT, as well.

“We will be hiking” (FUTURE);
“We would like some tea now” (PRESENT).

Some grammars will have Modals for defective verbs. They do not have all the three forms. Let us see.

INFINITIVE: to travel






INFINITIVE: to write






Modal verbs have mostly two forms.















The verb form to need is more and more like a regular verb in American English today; it has three forms then, need, needed, needed. The verb form must works as a second form only sometimes. We can focus on this later in our language journey. We may observe here, Modal verbs can be truly unlike other verbs.

They do not have infinitive forms.
We do not say *to may.

They do not have participle forms.
We do not say *mayed or maying.

They do not use will for their grammatical FUTURE.
We do not say *will may.

Their forms can have more than one grammatical time reference.
We could say,
“You might think it is much reading, for one go”.
MIGHT is the PAST form of the verb MAY, yet it refers to the grammatical PRESENT here.

We also could say,
“As children, they loved the old library, where they might read as well as play.”
MIGHT is the PAST form of the verb MAY, and it refers to the grammatical PAST.

Modal verbs do not really state on the Time and Aspect. They mediate between the two, and we might consider this mediation in logical categories, as POTENTIALITY, PROBABILITY, CONTINGENCY, or CERTAINTY.

Our potential is what we are actually able to do a given time, or something we have real prospects to do. Something potential is something that actually can come into existence.

It belongs mostly with guesswork. For theory, probability is a close synonym with possibility.

Let us think about Madame Règle. She has the potential to have lunch at Latimer Sauf’s restaurant every day. He always has a table for his friends, and she has enough money.

However, her work with Paris haute couture designers happens to keep her over the lunchtime. Her coming to lunch is probable, but not certain.

It requires both potentiality and probability. Let us think about Monsieur Sauf’s birthday. Madame Règle WILL come to meet him. It is certain.

Some books will have something contingent for something likely, and some will say it is something unlikely to happen. Mostly, we tell likelihood by how often something takes place, but on the other hand, we do not have the same focus or want for various things to happen.

Madame Règle has a resolve to keep matters in good fashion. Words have etymologies. The adjective “contingent” comes from the Latin words “tangere, tangens”. The words meant “to touch”, “touching”.

Madame Règle has contingency for something touching on, dependent on something else, and she allows that cause and effect may not depend on simple factors.

Contingency needs a potential for something to happen. What is certain has to be probable.

When we speak about own potential, we mostly say what we are able to do. To tell own resolves, we most often use the verbs CAN or MAY.

We are able to do things only in probable circumstances, even if our abilities are outstanding. CAN and MAY are our most prominent words for probability, too.

MAY is going to sound a bit more formal. CAN is going to be more colloquial. CAN happens to express probability greater than MAY.

Contingency may require that we adapt own resolves to circumstances. Our Modal verbs to express the extent for that requirement are NEED, SHOULD, OUGHT TO, and HAVE TO.

We always use OUGHT TO with the infinitive: “we ought to learn”, “we ought to work”.

American English differs from British much, on the verb SHALL. In American, the verb is to prefigure on resolves:
The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the State where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed.

Feel welcome to
It has been about 230 years, since the Constitution was written. For a house, we would say it deserves refurbishment. For text, we can update the language form, especially if we want to learn the language. The Constitution is a “syntax bonanza”, that is, an exceptionally rich resource. We only cannot have language forms that are hundreds of years aged, to learn the language as it is today. ■→MORE

In Part 3 of the Travel, we use the civics for nouns, adjectives, other parts of speech, and phrases. We may note already here that we are not likely to use the Modal verb WILL for contingency, if we love independence.

We people yet can be certain about own perception and volition. The Modal verbs WILL and MUST can express a strong prediction or resolve.

PAST or PRESENT Modal forms influence the language register, that is, styles to speak or write; Modal second forms can express polite offers in the grammatical PRESENT.

21. You MIGHT use the phone | You COULD use the phone;
(a tentative suggestion in the PRESENT.)

The Modal form CAN is very colloquial in its register for suggestions. It could be rude, when we directly address someone we do not know.

Let us imagine we ask,
22. CAN I open the window?
The answer might be
22a. You certainly are capable of that,
but you are not allowed to.

CAN is used mostly to state on POTENTIAL or to provide information — to talk about objective circumstances, rather than an individual resolves.

23. Bald eagles CAN fly above clouds.
(Objectively a fact.)

24. Bald eagles fly above clouds.
(We would be likely to say this about a specific area where bald eagles live and fly above clouds.)

Modal mediation is important in American English, as a matter of good style, tact, and logic. In negotiation or guidance, we should not misinterpret Modal verbs for uncertainty or passiveness. If someone says that something would not work, he or she is as assertive as when saying it is not going to work.

In American as well as British English, requests with forms as CAN’T or COULDN’T (the Negative Interrogative) imply that we expect consent (and we cannot assume approval from someone like a never-possibly-happy-person).

25. COULDN’T I use your car?
(I expect you are going to allow it.)

If someone is not a never-possibly-happy-person, we can ask,
26. COULD I use your car (please)?

PAST Modal forms may change the degree of Modality we express. Let us mark this degree in cubes. We can think about mountaineering.

27. Careful with this handle, it MAY break.

27. Careful with this handle, it MIGHT break.

27. Careful with this handle, it CAN break.

27. Careful with this handle, it COULD break.

We may know handles as in the picture above as quickdraws. Modal forms will yet require that we are flexible, and we can have brief note on that.

There are multifarious handles in this world. We may need one to break a can of food open, when hiking.

A can, the noun, may mean a metal container. The verb to can may mean putting goods in cans. The auxiliary can is a Modal verb form. Words always can have more than one meaning, and we need to interpret Modal forms in context.

Let us compare other Modal verbs for their degrees of CONTINGENCY or CERTAINTY.

29. The can WILL / HAS TO / MUST break open.

29. The can SHOULD / OUGHT TO break open.

29. The can NEEDS to break open.

Modal forms HAVE TO and MUST differ in sense, not in degree of Modality.

32. You HAVE TO take care of the handle;
(such are the circumstances).

32. You MUST take care of the handle;
(my common sense says so).

Colloquial American English has phrases as
for common sense generally, with CERTAINTY as well as CONTINGENCY.

Colloquial uses depart from formal standard. We have a note on human mental lexicons in ■→SUBCHAPTER 6.3. We keep away from informal uses in official contexts.

If we want to talk certainty as well as common sense, and we are not in a formal situation, we can say,

34. To scoop, you first GOTTA take care of the handle.

Common sense does not mean we should not have any sense of humor.

Informal language is mostly banned from schools. We may need some acquaintance with it to comprehend everyday speech, however. Colloquially, the word “stuff” may mean “talk”, “matter”.

34b. We HAVE TO / GOTTA learn to handle the Modal stuff.

Much of the above is a strong challenge on our time frames and arrow cues: how do we use them with Modal verbs? We can always think about the target grammatical time.

35. Alice COULD read when she was five.

36. Ten years ago, he got a loan, and COULD start his new business.

We think about the context, not the language forms solely. In both standard and colloquial uses, the Time reference can be tacit, please compare ■→SUB-CHAPTER 6.2: the word “today” cannot decide on grammatical time.

7. I haven’t seen her today.

7. I didn’t see her today.

What strategy can we develop for the Modal PAST, as for talking about yesterday? We can use syntactic structures. Feel welcome.