Defending themselves in court
the modal verbs include can, must, may, might, will, would, should. they are used with other verbs to express ability, obligation, possibility, and so on. below is a list showing the most useful modals and their most common meanings:
modal meaning example
can to express ability i can speak a little russian.
can to request permission can i open the window?
may to express possibility i may be home late.
may to request permission may i sit down, please?
must to express obligation i must go now.
must to express strong belief she must be over 90 years old.
should to give advice you should stop smoking.
would to request or offer would you like a cup of tea?
would in if-sentences if i were you, i would say sorry.
modal verbs are unlike other verbs. they do not change their form (spelling) and they have no infinitive or participle (past/present). the modals must and can need substitute verbs to express obligation or ability in the different tenses. here are some examples:
past simple sorry i'm late. i had to finish my math test.
present perfect she's had to return to korea at short notice.
future you'll have to work hard if you want to pass the exams.
infinitive i don't want to have to go.
past simple i couldn't/wasn't able to walk until i was 3 years old.
present perfect i haven't been able to solve this problem. can you help?
future i'm not sure if i will be able to come to your party.
infinitive i would love to be able to play the piano.
modals are auxiliary verbs. they do not need an additional auxiliary in negatives or questions. for example: must i come? (do i must or: he shouldn't smoke (he doesn't should smoke).
important: the explanations and examples on this page are just an introduction to this extensive and complex area of english grammar. students of english who want to learn more should consult a good reference work, such as swan's practical english usage.
a hot potato
speak of an issue (mostly current) which many people are talking about and which is usually disputed
a penny for your thoughts
a way of asking what someone is thinking
actions speak louder than words
people's intentions can be judged better by what they do than what they say.
add insult to injury
to further a loss with mockery or indignity; to worsen an unfavorable situation.
at the drop of a hat
meaning: without any hesitation; instantly.
back to the drawing board
when an attempt fails and it's time to start all over.
ball is in your court
it is up to you to make the next decision or step
barking up the wrong tree
looking in the wrong place. accusing the wrong person
be glad to see the back of
be happy when a person leaves.
beat around the bush
avoiding the main topic. not speaking directly about the issue.
best of both worlds
meaning: all the advantages.
best thing since sliced bread
a good invention or innovation. a good idea or plan.
bite off more than you can chew
to take on a task that is way to big.
blessing in disguise
something good that isn't recognized at first.
burn the midnight oil
to work late into the night, alluding to the time before electric lighting.
can't judge a book by its cover
cannot judge something primarily on appearance.
caught between two stools
when someone finds it difficult to choose between two alternatives.
costs an arm and a leg
this idiom is used when something is very expensive.
cross that bridge when you come to it
deal with a problem if and when it becomes necessary, not before.
cry over spilt milk
when you complain about a loss from the past.
curiosity killed the cat
being inquisitive can lead you into an unpleasant situation.
when something is done badly to save money.
cut the mustard [possibly derived from "cut the muster"]
to succeed; to come up to expectations; adequate enough to compete or participate
to present a counter argument
don't count your chickens before the eggs have hatched
this idiom is used to express "don't make plans for something that might not happen".
don't give up the day job
you are not very good at something. you could definitely not do it professionally.
don't put all your eggs in one basket
do not put all your resources in one possibility.
drastic times call for drastic measures
when you are extremely desperate you need to take drastic actions.
elvis has left the building
the show has come to an end. it's all over.
every cloud has a silver lining
be optimistic, even difficult times will lead to better days.
far cry from
very different from.
feel a bit under the weather
meaning: feeling slightly ill.
give the benefit of the doubt
believe someone's statement, without proof.