Teaching Modals: What Can and Can’t Be Done

Is it possible to teach modals separately, one by one? Of course, you could, but why? Their uses and meanings tend to overlap, so it makes sense to teach modals together in small sets, for example, may and might for possibilities. However, it’s very likely that at least one student will ask a question such…

How Could I Do That?

Some months ago I was asked to distinguish between How could I have missed that? and How could I miss that? Reading over my explanation, I’m not completely satisfied with the answer I gave. So, can I express my regret by saying, “How could I have been so unclear?” I initially wrote that the perfect form…

Couldn’t Be Better: Understanding the Modal Verb ‘Could’

After exploring the forms and uses of could in my previous post, I feel it’s a good time to offer an activity for upper level students who need to strengthen their mastery of this particular modal verb. Please consider my Couldn’t Be Better_handout. The activity tests students’ ability to understand the different meanings of could. Students are not only exposed…

Student Stumper 42: Could do vs. Could have done

QUESTION: Which question is correct? “How could I have missed that?” or “How could I miss that?” ANSWER: If only I could easily and confidently answer that! Could we first look at other uses of this modal verb? We could look at a few examples together if you’d like. That wasn’t actually my initial reply to the…

Student Stumper 33: Is “would” more polite than “could”?

QUESTION: What’s the difference between would and could? ANSWER: This question was posted on my forum, and it began a discussion on modals. I first explored differences in meaning. I listed uses of would, including future in the past (You promised you would tell me!) and habitual past (When I was a child, I would ask…

Basic Abilities: Teaching modal verbs to express ability

The next time you must teach can/ could to lower level students, consider these two activities. 1.) MUSICAL CHALLENGE. “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” is a duet from the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun.  You’ll find various versions of Irving Berlin’s song on the Internet, giving you the chance to select the one…

Student Stumper 21: May vs. Might

QUESTION: Is it true that the only difference between MAY and MIGHT is that MAY is stronger? ANSWER:  Yes, but only when we’re talking about possibilities. I may get my work done early if I don’t run into any trouble. This suggests it’s possible that I’ll finish early. Compare: If the computer screen stops freezing…