Using Modal Verbs to Express Degrees of Certainty in English

Introduction to Modal Verbs and Degrees of Certainty

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that express modality, which refers to the speaker’s attitude toward the action or state expressed by the main verb. They can indicate ability, permission, necessity, possibility, probability, advice, obligation, and other related concepts. In English, modal verbs include “can,” “could,” “may,” “might,” “must,” “shall,” “should,” “will,” and “would.”

Degrees of certainty refer to the level of confidence or conviction with which a person makes a statement. It ranges from absolute certainty (e.g., “I know for sure”) to uncertainty (e.g., “I think” or “It seems”). Using appropriate modal verbs can help learners convey their degree of certainty more accurately in English.

Using Modal Verbs in the Continuous/Progressive Aspect

In addition to simple tenses, modal verbs can also be used in continuous or progressive aspect. For example:

I am able to speak French fluently.

She might have been cooking dinner when you called.

Examples of Common Modal Verbs Expressing Degrees of Certainty

Here are some examples of common modal verbs expressing degrees of certainty:

1. Can – Used to express ability or capability. E.g., “I can play guitar well.”

2. Could – Used to express past ability or potential future ability. E.g., “I could run a marathon if I trained hard enough.”

3. May – Used to express present possibility or likelihood. E.g., “She may come to the party tonight.”

4. Might – Used to express past possibility or hypothetical situations. E.g., “He might have won the race if he had trained harder.”

5. Must – Used to express strong obligation or necessity. E.g., “You must study hard for the exam.”

6. Should – Used to express weaker obligation or suggestion. E.g., “You should try this restaurant; it’s amazing!”

Practice Exercises for Learning Modal Verbs

To practice using modal verbs correctly, here are some exercises:

1. Fill in the blank with an appropriate modal verb:

a) I borrow your pen?

b) He be at home now.

c) We go out for lunch later.

d) If I more time, I would travel around the world.

e) You wear a suit to the interview.

f) They not like spicy food.

2. Use the given sentence stem to form sentences with different modal verbs:

Sentence Stem: It is possible that…

a) …the train will arrive on time today.

b) …we will get tickets to the concert.

c) …she has already finished her work.

d) …they will cancel the meeting due to the pandemic.

e) …he was lying about his age.

f) …you forgot my birthday again!


Learning how to use modal verbs effectively can greatly improve communication skills in English. By understanding the nuances between different modal verbs, learners can better express themselves with accuracy and clarity. With regular practice and exposure, using modal verbs will become second nature, making conversations smoother and more natural.

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