Insert the appropriate modal verb in the spaces provided. When there is a verb in brackets, put it into the correct form.
She can play the cello/She is able to play the cello.
When I become an architect, I'll be able to draw plans.
He has been able to calculate the cost of building and the material needed since he became a quantity surveyor.
usually has a present meaning
. Be able to
is necessary when can
is impossible, ie in future tenses, perfect tenses, and so forth.
She __________ memorize a lot of things just at one glance.
When the day breaks, we __________ reach the top of the mountain.
He __________ play volleyball since he was a kid.
You used to __________ persuade people to do things.
I __________ speak and write five languages.
As a girl, I could/was able to run and jump all day without getting tired.
On that occasion, I was able to escape/I managed to escape/I succeeded in escaping her clutches.
On that occasion, I couldn't/wasn't able to escape her clutches.
Last night I could hear what my neighbours were talking about.
The first sentence implies a general ability in the past. In the second, we are referring to a particular situation
. In the negative and with perceptions verbs
, we normally prefer could
When I entered the hut, I __________ see that somebody had just been there.
He was attacked by two men with a strong constitution last night, but he __________ beat them up.
When he was eighteen, he __________ sing and dance beautifully.
Last night I __________ convince my parents to allow me to see that late-night horror film.
I asked her to jump into the water, but she said that she (not) __________ swim.
She could/would be able to help us if she were/was alive.
(present or future)
She could have helped/would have been able to help us if she had been alive.
Note the use of could
and be able to
If I hadn't so much work, I __________ (fix) the fuse.
If you had gone through the normal channels, you __________ (get) the loan.
If he had been born in 1940, he __________ (play) with PelÚ.
If she were here, she __________ (console) him.
If I had a screwdriver, I __________ (unscrew) this screw.
She may/can/is allowed to finish work early today.
He has been allowed to do what he wants all his life.
They can/may/will be allowed to go to the disco when they get good school results.
You may/can go skiing next week.
(= I allow you to go skiing next week.)
Next month I'll be eighteen. Then, I'll be allowed to do what I wish.
He can stay up late whenever he likes.
is formal; can
, informal. Can
must be used to express general or habitual permission, as in the last example above. Be allowed to
is necessary when may
are not possible, ie in perfect tenses, infinitives and so on.
You __________ stay here for a short while, but don't be long.
From tomorrow onwards, you (not) __________ smoke in your bedrooms.
You __________ take my hand.
We (always) __________ park in this street; but from today on, we won't.
You __________ ask for my advice every time you need it.
"Can/Could I go to the lavatory?"
"Yes, you can/No, you can't."
"May/Might I hold your hand?"
"Yes, you may/No, you may not."
is informal, and should be avoided in formal situations. Could
is neutral; may
, the most formal. Might
expresses uncertainity; or in other words, it indicates that you are not very sure about the answer: maybe you are hoping a negative reply.
"__________ I use your phone, Josephine?"
"__________ I come in, please?"
"Yes, you __________."
"__________ I bring my friends over this afternoon?"
"No, you (not) __________. They're terribly spoilt."
"__________ I kiss you?"
"Yes, you __________"
"__________ I sit down?"
"Go ahead, please!"
When she was a child, she could/was allowed to watch late-night horror movies on television.
She was allowed to watch a late-horror film on the telly yesterday, as it was her birthday.
She could not/was not allowed to watch a late-night film, although it was her birthday.
She could not/was not allowed to smoke at home when she was sixteen years old.
and was/were allowed to
are possible for general permission, but could
is more usual. Only was/were allowed to
is used when we are talking of a particular situation. In the negative, could not
can replace was not/were not allowed to
He (not) __________ play the music loud yesterday evening, as her mother had suffered an attack of migraine.
He __________ not to attend school yesterday because it was his parents' silver wedding anniversary.
When she was fourteen, she (not) __________ go out with boys.
When we were kids, we loved going to our grandparents' place, as we __________ stay up late.
While she was in hospital, we __________ only see her at the visiting hours.
We could/would be allowed to get in if we had a permit.
(present or future)
We could have got/would have been allowed to get in if we had had a permit.
and be allowed to
are possible in conditional tenses
, as seen above.
If he had got better school results, he __________ (play) in the team.
We __________ (hunt) here if we had a licence.
They __________ (get) into that place if they were of age.
You __________ (go) with us if you gave us ten pounds.
He __________ (join) us if he hadn't such a big mouth.
Alcoholic beverages may not be served after midnight.
We cannot/can't take books out of this library.
Books may not be taken out
.→ a notice at a library)
are used to express prohibition. May not
mainly occurs in formal instructions.
People under sixteen __________ order alcoholic drinks.
You (not) __________ overtake. There's a continuous line.
You (not) __________ enter the USA without a visa.
This room (not) __________ be used without the prior permission of the manager.
You (not) __________ take my bike!
9 Revision exercise.
When I entered the house, the fuse had blown, but I __________ see my way in the dark.
If you taught me how to do it, I __________ do it alone.
If you take one of these tablets, you __________ stay awake all night long.
You __________ overtake here. There's a broken line.
When you come of age, you __________ see adult films.
If dogs __________ there, I would have taken mine with me.
If you __________ bring your pet here, everybody would do so.
"__________ I stand up, sir?'
"No, you __________. The class isn't over yet."
You (not) __________ look girls up and down like this!
You (not) __________ come around tonight! My husband will be at home.
If you help me, we __________ build a shack.
I __________ give you a hand, if you really needed one!
I __________ play only in the park. My mom has told me not to go outside the park.
I'd like to __________ sing as well as you do.
When I was your age, I __________ dance for hours and hours without getting tired.
She __________ win the singing contest last night. In actual fact, she was by far the best singer.
He had tried to speak to her many times, but without much success. Two days ago, however, he __________ see her.
Pets (not) __________
You (not) __________ do such a thing here! Get out!
You're not going to __________ take her with you. (permission)
Although I knew they __________ escape, I told them not to.
"__________ I see Mr Wright, please?"
"Yes, of course."
If you __________ meet the expenses, I'll see to getting cheap labour.
"__________ I go topless, father?"
"Of course you can't!"
If I had enough money to buy the materials needed, I __________ put up a small cottage here. My two sons __________ help me too. We're very handy.
When you finish ironing, you __________ watch the telly.
"Somebody has just rung the bell!"
"It may/might/could be my sister."
"The bell! Can/Could it be your brother?/Do you think (that) it is your brother?
suggest a more remote possibility than may
. In the interrogative, may
is not usually possible, and might
is not very common. Instead, we use can
, or other alternatives
(such as Do you think...
implies that we are less sure about something:
Could they be pulling my leg?
(I do not think they are pulling my leg, but who knows.)
Can they be pulling my leg?
(Do you think they are pulling my leg?)
What could that be?
(I found it very strange.)
What can that be?
(Do you know what it is?)
"Who __________ it be now?"
"I don't know. It __________ be my goddaughter."
He __________ be working in the garden. I'll go and see if he's there.
"He hasn't come to class today!"
"He __________ be ill in bed!"
"Or he __________ have played truant!"
If you tell her now, she __________ go up the wall.
She __________ be very plain, but she's the most incredible person I have ever met. I think I have found my life partner.
We may/might/could go swimming this afternoon.
He may/might/could pass his driving test.
Do you think (that) he will pass his driving test?
Is it possible/probable that he will pass his driving test?
Is it likely that he will pass his driving test?
Is he likely to pass his driving test?
indicate a smaller possibility than may
. In the interrogative, we generally use one of the alternatives given above.
We __________ go elsewhere this afternoon.
They __________ travel the world next spring.
"They __________ find my fingerprints."
"I hope not."
It __________ come to nothing, but we __________
as well try. (= We have nothing to lose by trying.)
"__________ he'll help us out until Jo recovers from her illness?"
"I think so."
The outskirts of Madrid can be dangerous at times.
means here that it is possible for the outskirts of Madrid to be dangerous at times. In the past, we use could
: My father could be very unfriendly
, ie it was possible for my father to be very unfriendly.
People __________ die of a heart attack.
This medicine __________ have side-effects.
When you were a child, you __________ be a nuisance at times.
Oil (not) __________ mix with water. (= It is impossible to mix oil with water.)
You (not) __________ wash this dress. It must be dry-cleaned.
He may/might not find the treasure island.
He cannot find the treasure island.
He could not find the treasure island.
The first sentence means that it is possible that he does not find the treasure island; the second, that it is impossible that he finds the treasure island. Could not
carries the idea of condition or concession
: He couldn't find the treasure island (even if/even though he tried his best)
, that is, it would be impossible for him to find the treasure island.
You (not) __________ get the push. You've been working there all your life. (= That is not possible.)
She (not) __________ be stuck in a blizzard. It's not snowing!
He (not) __________ recover consciousness. The only thing we can do now is to wait and see if he reacts to the treatment.
We (not) __________ plant lilacs this year. (We have not decided it yet.)
Even if we had a key, we (not) __________ get in the house, as the front door is jammed.
For details about the modal auxiliaries will, shall, would
, see units 7
. For information on used to
, see unit 6, part 2
. For information about dare
, see unit 6, part 3
is possible with a future meaning when we suggest something at the moment of speaking: We can play rugger tomorrow
See unit 8, remark i.
It very often implies some kind of difficulty.
And a few other, like "believe", "remember" and "understand".
For the usage of were
in conditional clauses, see unit 24, section 7
See unit 24.
Be allowed to
is much less common than can
. Notice as well: I allow her to finish work early today
. Be permitted to
is a very formal synonym for be allowed to
She is permitted to finish work early today.
We permit her to finish work early today.
Be allowed to
is neutral. Let
is another alternative to be allowed to
, but less formal:
I'll let her go.
I'll allow her to go.
I'll permit her to go.
are the conditional or past forms of may
, respectively: I told her that she might/could go skiing the next week
. See also section 14.
For conditional sentences, see unit 24
See section 26 in this unit.
You may be my mother's boyfriend, but this doesn't allow you to order me around.
(= I admit that you are my mother's boyfriend; but, despite that, this doesn't allow you to order me around.)
You might be cleverer than I am, but you are very rude.
(= Although [you say that] you are cleverer than I am, you are very rude.)
Compare these sentences:
Do you think (that) it is your brother?
(Maybe the person ringing the bell is your brother.)
Do you think (that) it will be your brother.
(I think it unlikely.)
The burglar alarm has just gone off. Do you think (that) someone has broken into the house?
(Perhaps someone has broken into the house.)
The burglar alarm has just gone off. Do you think (that) someone will have broken into the house?
(I do not think it very likely.)
often expresses a more remote probability than might
. This depends on where we put the stress.
See the next section.
If we say that something is probable
, it is more likely to happen than if we say say that something is possible
usually conveys a less likely possibility than might
. This depends where we place the stress.
is not possible here.
could also be used instead of can
This expression may/can also occur in a conversational context.
This word may/can only be used in the negative and in the interrogative.
This diet may/can cause side-effects.
Nevertheless, this is not always possible. We would probably not say The outskirts of Madrid may be dangerous at times
to express general possibility. However, in a bigger context, it might be okay: The outskirts of Madrid may be dangerous at times, but they are quieter than the city centre
. (= Although the outskirts of Madrid can be dangerous at times, they are quieter than the city centre. See section 10, footnote 12.
The same applies to could not
when it is used for permission: You couldn't use my car tomorrow (even if/even though you had a driving licence)
. (= I would not allow you to use my car tomorrow, or I will be using it tomorrow, so I would not lend it to you.)