IELTS Writing, Task 1, Task 2

Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are used to show your attitude to the world. They are used to express the following: certainty; possibility ; willingness; obligation; necessity, and ability.

The core modal verbs are: can, could, may, might, will, shall, would, should, must

The semi-modal verbs are: dare, need, ought to, used to

Rather than give a complete description of the uses of the above, I thought it would be more useful just to focus on some common problems with modal verbs by means of a quiz.

Modals Quiz (The answers follow the quiz)


1. Which is correct?

a) You should always keep your PIN in a safe place.

b) You always should keep your PIN in a safe place.

2. Which is better: can, could or are both OK?

What shall we make for dinner? Well, we ……. go out for a change.

3. Is this sentence correct?

She can’t eat fish. You’d better prepare something else, just in case.

4. Is this sentence correct?

They could pass the exam if they’d made more effort.

5. Which of the following is correct?

When I lived in I France I could speak French quite well.
I could speak French quite fluently in the meeting yesterday.

6. What’s the missing word?

She said she …………… go to the party as she had too much work to do.

She said she ………… go to the party as her boss would be there and she didn’t want to meet him.

7. Which is more likely?

I might go away at the weekend

I may go away at the weekend

8. Why is this sentence incorrect? What’s the correct version?

Until a few years ago, people might find a job quite easily.

9. Can you think of a three word expression that fits into both these sentences?

a) She …………………me. I can’t remember if she did or not.

b) She ………………….me. If I had known, I wouldn’t have done all the extra work

10. Complete the following using must or can in a suitable form.

There are no lights on in the house. They …………..out

There are no lights on in the house. They …………….. in

11. Can you use all three verb forms in bold in the following sentences?

You needn’t / mustn’t / don’t have to finish the report today. I can wait until the end of the week.

12. Rewrite the following without using ‘should’

You should go home to rest.

You don’t look too good.

You should get there by 5 o’clock providing the trains are on time.

13. Which of the following is more natural?

If you go to Japan, you had better visit Kyoto.

If you go to Japan, you should visit Kyoto

14. Why is this sentence incorrect?

I used to go swimming two times last week.

15. Think of two ways of filling the gap in this sentence.

She ……………………there by 6 o’clock, but she didn’t come.


I hope the above has given you a better understanding of how to use modal verbs.

 

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Quiz – Answers
1. Which is correct?
You should always keep your PIN in a safe place.
We normally put adverbs after modal verbs.

2. Which is better: can, could or are both OK?
Both OK – ‘could’ is more tentative.
What shall we make for dinner? Well, we can / could go out for a change.

3. Is this sentence correct?
She can’t eat fish. You’d better prepare something else, just in case.
This is a statement of possibility not certainty so the correct form is: She may/might not eat fish.

4. Is this sentence correct ?
They could pass the exam if they’d made more effort.
they’d = they had so the correct form is: They could have passed the exam if they’d made more effort


5. Which of the following is correct?
When I lived in I France I could speak French quite well. OK
I could speak French quite fluently in the meeting yesterday.
I was able to / managed to speak French quite fluently in the meeting yesterday.
‘Could’ is not normally used to refer to an event at one particular time

6. What’s the missing word?
She said she couldn’t go to the party as she had too much work to do
She said she wouldn’t go to the party as her boss would be there and she didn’t want to meet him.

7. Which is more likely?
I might go away at the weekend about 30% likely
I may go away at the weekend about 50 % likely

8. Why is this sentence incorrect? What’s the correct version?
Until a few years ago, people might find a job quite easily.
Until a few years ago, people could find a job quite easily.
Might can’t be used for past possibility

9. Can you think of a three word expression that fits into both these sentences?
a) She might/could have told me. I can’t remember if she did or not.
b) She might/could have told me. If I had known, I wouldn’t have done all the extra work.
Sentence a) is an expression of possibility. Sentence b) is a criticism. ‘Should’ is possible in b) but not in a).

10. Complete the following
There are no lights on in the house. They must be out
There are no lights on in the house. They can’t be in (Mustn’t be is also acceptable, especially in American English)

11. Can you use all three verb forms in bold in the following sentences?
You needn’t / mustn’t / don’t have to finish the report today. I can wait until the end of the week.

12. Rewrite the following without using ‘should’
You should go home to rest. You don’t look too good.
This sentence uses ‘should’ to make a suggestion or give advice
Possible rewording:
If I were you, I’d go home ……
You should get there by 5 o’clock providing the trains are on time
This sentence uses ‘should’ to express probability.
Possible rewording:
It’s likely that you’ll get there by 5 o’clock …..

13. Which of the following is more natural?
If you go to Japan, you had better visit Kyoto.
If you go to Japan, you should visit Kyoto
‘Had better’ is used to give advice which the speaker strongly recommends, as the consequences of not following the given advice would be harmful for the listener.
Example – doctor to patient:
You had better stop drinking so much. (or else you are going to become seriously ill)

14. Why is this sentence incorrect?
I used to go swimming two times last week.
‘used to’ is used to describe past habits.
Example: I used to smoke but managed to give up a few years ago.

15. Think of two ways of filling the gap in this sentence.
She should have been there by 6 o’clock, but she didn’t come.
She was supposed to be there by 6 o’clock, but she didn’t come.