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University of VictoriaIntroduction to IT English
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Modals

Definition

A modal is an auxiliary, or helping, verb and is placed in front of another verb to add a different meaning to that verb.

Example

Miguel can help us. (modal + simple verb)

This modal adds the idea of “possibility” to the verb “help”. Here the meaning is:
1.  It is possible for Miguel to help us.
2.  Miguel is able to help us.

Explanation

Modals —

  • are used with the simple form of verbs. (The simple form is the infinitive verb without “to”. For example, infinitive = to help; simple form = to help): Miguel can help us.
  • eliminate the “s” on the simple form of the verb in third-person singular: “He can help us”, NOT “He can helps us”.
  • do not use “do” for questions and short answers.
Question Short Answer
Can he help us? He can.
He can help us, can’t he? He might be able to.
Sure he can.
NOTDoes he can help us? NOTHe does.”
  • usually do not have infinitive forms or participle forms:
    • to can — infinitive
    • canning — participle
    • canned — past participle
  • can be contracted: can not = can’t.
  • have two very general kinds of meanings:
    • amount of certainty
    • obligation or freedom to do something