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…

The Need to Learn by Doing

A student recently asked about the differences between need to, have to, and must. Sometimes an explanation clarifies such doubts, but often one learns much better through practice with some feedback. If you’d like short sets of tasks to study differences in structure and meaning, check out my Need to.Have to.Must_handout. Key points include: – Need to expresses what…

Student Stumper 47: Can’t Have and Couldn’t Have

How could I have thought there wouldn’t be another tricky question about perfect modal verbs? Modals and their many meanings stump us teachers from time to time. It’s easy enough to explain the basics, but part of the challenge is understanding where there’s overlap and where there isn’t. I addressed one question regarding perfect modals…

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 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…

Magic, Mysteries, and Modals

Upon my return from my vacation, a YouTube viewer did me the favor of selecting my next video topic. The viewer did not merely request a language point, but also suggested a theme. Many have asked me to make videos on modal verbs, but this was the first request for the perfect aspect, namely must have…

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…

Student Stumper 4: Perfect Modals in Reported Speech

QUESTION: The book says we never change should and could in reported speech. Is that true? ANSWER: As I was preparing a lesson on modals and conditionals in reported speech, I came across an old online thread about changing what most grammar sources claim is unchangeable. An English language learner reasoned that in reported speech…