English Daily Workout: Modal Verbs: Formation & Conjugation

Modal Verbs: Formation & Conjugation

There are nine modal verbs in English: can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would. Two of these, will and would, have already been discussed in detail.






1. Formation of the modal conjugations

All of the modal verbs are used as auxiliaries, and all of them form conjugations in the same way. Thus, the other modal auxiliaries form conjugations in the same way as will and would. For instance, the conjugation of the modal auxiliary could with the verb to work is formed as follows:






Conjugations of the modal auxiliary Could with the verb To Work


      Simple                                            Continuous
  I could work  I could be working
  you could work  you could be working
  he could work  he could be working
  she could work  she could be working
  it could work  it could be working
  we could work  we could be working
  they could work  they could be working
   
          Perfect         Perfect Continuous
  I could have worked  I could have been working
  you could have worked  you could have been working
  he could have worked  he could have been working
  she could have worked  she could have been working
  it could have worked  it could have been working
  we could have worked  we could have been working
  they could have worked  they could have been working


The formation of conjugations using the modal auxiliaries can be summarized as follows:

Conjugation                     
         Auxiliary         
      Verb Form
  Simple  modal auxiliary  bare infinitive
  Continuous  modal auxiliary + be  present participle
  Perfect  modal auxiliary + have  past participle
  Perfect Continuous  modal auxiliary + have been  present participle


Verbs in the Simple conjugation with a modal auxiliary generally refer to present or future time; whereas verbs in the Perfect conjugation with a modal auxiliary generally refer to past time.

Verbs in the Continuous conjugation with a modal auxiliary generally refer to continuous, ongoing actions in present or future time; whereas verbs in the Perfect Continuous conjugation with a modal auxiliary generally refer to continuous, ongoing actions in past time.

The word order for questions and negative statements in the conjugations with the modal auxiliaries is similar to that in other English conjugations.

a. Questions
To form a question, the first auxiliary is placed before the subject. For example:

Affirmative Statement                                    Question
  She can work.  Can she work?
  He would be working.  Would he be working?
  They should have worked.  Should they have worked?
  I could have been working.  Could I have been working?




b. Negative statements
To form a negative statement, the word not is placed after the first auxiliary. It should be noted that the auxiliary can, followed by not, is written as a single word. For example:

Affirmative Statement                              
Negative Statement
  She can work.  She cannot work.
  He would be working.  He would not be working.
  They should have worked.  They should not have worked.
  I could have been working.  I could not have been working.




In spoken English, the following contractions may be used:

Without Contractions              With Contractions
  cannot  can't
  could not  couldn't
  might not  mightn't
  must not  mustn't
  shall not  shan't
  should not  shouldn't
  will not  won't
  would not  wouldn't

However, it should be noted that the contractions mightn't and shan't are rarely used in modern American English.

c. Negative questions
To form a negative question, the first auxiliary is placed before the subject, and the word not is placed after the subject. However, when contractions are used, the contracted form of not follows immediately after the auxiliary. For example:

Without Contractions                                                
      With Contractions
  Can she not work?  Can't she work?
  Would he not be working?  Wouldn't he be working?
  Should they not have worked?  Shouldn't they have worked?
  Could I not have been working?  Couldn't I have been working?



d. Tag questions
Tag questions are formed using the first auxiliary. In the following examples, the negative tag questions are underlined.

Affirmative Statement                                         
Affirmative Statement with Tag Question
  She can work.  She can work, can't she?
  He would be working.  He would be working, wouldn't he?
  They should have worked.  They should have worked, shouldn't they?
  I could have been working.  I could have been working, couldn't I?

Exercises 1, 2, and 3