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Unit 13 modals and related verbs 3
Degrees of probability A
We can use modals and other phrases to talk about the probability that something will happen in the future. See table and following sections.
Certainty and deduction B
We use will and be certain to if we are certain that something will happen.
The new Jaguar will be launched at the Paris Motor Show.
We use won’t when we are certain something will not happen.
I’m sorry, Christiane is on holiday. She won’t be back until the 14th.
We can use probably and definitely with will and won’t. Note the word order.
She’ll probably be at the meeting. She probably won’t be at the meeting.
We use must and can’t to show that something is very certain because it is logical. This is often called ‘deduction’.
There’s no answer from her phone. She must be in a meeting Both the meeting rooms are empty. She can’t be in a meeting. Note that can’t, not mustn’t, is used here.
When we expect that something will happen we use should, ought to or be
They should/ought to arrive at about 4.30. Our profits are likely to improve next year.
Lisbon should be a turning point in European economic policy.
When we expect that something will not happen we use shouldn’t, ought not
to or be unlikely to.
There shouldn’t/ought not to be any problem.
Mr Blair’s Lisbon strategy is unlikely to be enough to halt the deterioration
in Britain’s relationship with Europe.
When we are uncertain we use may, might or could. The meaning is
We may be able to deliver in two weeks.
I might have some more news for you next week. It could take a long time to arrange the finance.
There is no important difference between these modals in this context.
The negative forms are may not and might not.
Friday is not a good day for the meeting. I may/might not be in the office on that day.
Note that could not is not used with this meaning.
Degrees of probability in the past E
For different degrees of probability in the past we use: modal verb + have +
past participle. See the table below.
Notice in the table that will/won’t have + past participle is an assumption (you think something is true although you have no proof). For certainty in the past we just use a normal past tense like the past simple.
assumption You’ll have seen our new model. It’s in all the shops.
deduction There was no answer from her phone. She must have been
in a meeting.
Both the meeting rooms were empty. She can’t have been in a meeting.
expectation They should/ought to have arrived by now. I hope they
haven’t got lost.
uncertainty Yes, I see what you mean now. I could have been wrong about that.
We’re only five minutes late. The talk might not have
assumption You won’t have seen our new model. It’s not in the shops
(= lose the signal in a phone call)
Christmas could have been an unhappy one last year if you ordered presents online. Many customers were still waiting for gifts to arrive long after the holidays had ended.
Be careful with the word ‘possibility’ because it refers to two different ideas in English: uncertainty and ability. Study these examples:
UNCERTAINTY (there is a chance that something will happen)
It’s possible that the share price will recover. (= the share price might/could
ABILITY (the mental skill or physical power to do something)
It’s possible for our factory to produce 800 cars a month. (= our factory can
To talk about a past possibility we use could + have + past participle.
I could have booked an earlier flight but it left at 7.30 in the morning. This is an opportunity that didn’t happen.
To talk about a past impossibility we use couldn’t + have + past participle.
I couldn’t have booked the earlier flight - it was completely full.
MODALS AND RELATED VERBS
Exercise 1 (A, B, C, D)
Underline the correct words.
1 Look at those clouds. I think it can / might / must rain.
2 That’s impossible. It can’t be / mustn’t be / may not be true.
3 Well done! You may be / must be / might be very pleased.
4 Next Thursday is a possibility. I might be / can’t be / must be free in the afternoon.
5 I’m not sure. I must not be / may not be / won’t be able to get there in time.
6 That can’t be / mustn’t be / may not be David. He’s away at a conference,
7 Lisa isn’t at her office. She can be / must be / mustn’t be on her way here.
8 Lisa hasn’t arrived yet. She should be / can be / can’t be here soon.
9 There’s someone in reception. It can be / could be / mustn’t be the engineer.
10 Sorry, I can’t / may not / might come to your presentation. I’m busy that afternoon.
11 I’m not sure where Sue is. She could be / must be / can be at lunch.
12 I’ve looked everywhere for Sue. She could be / must be / can be at lunch.
Exercise 2 (A, B, C, D)
Match each sentence 1-7 with a similar sentence a)-g).
1 They are likely to do it.
2 They might/could do it.
3 They’re almost certain to do it.
4 They’ll definitely do it.
5 They’re unlikely to do it.
6 They’re very unlikely do it.
7 They definitely won’t do it.
a) I’m sure that they’ll do it.
b) I’m nearly sure that they’ll do it. c) They’ll probably do it.
d) Maybe they’ll do it.
e) I’m sure they won’t do it.
f) They probably won’t do it. g) They almost certainly won’t do it.
Exercise 3 (A, B, D, F)
Complete the second sentence so it has a similar meaning to the first sentence using must, might, can or can’t
1 Deliver by the end of the month? Yes, I think it’s possible to do that.
(= looked after from child to adult)
Deliver by the end of the month? Yes, I think we ..... do that.
2 It’s possible that we will lose this client. We ….. lose this client.
3 I’m sure this isn’t the right road. This ….. be the right road.
4 I’m sure you work late most nights. You ….. work late most nights.
5 It’s possible that I’ll see you tomorrow, but I’m not sure. I ….. see you tomorrow.
6 It’s possible for the new printer to print 20 sheets per minute.
The new printer ….. print 20 sheets per minute.
7 I’m afraid that I’m unable to go to the Trade Fair this year.
I’m afraid that I ….. go to the Trade Fair this year.
8 I suppose you are Kate Perry. How do you do? You ….. be Kate Perry. How do you do?
Exercise 4 (E, F)
Match each sentence 1-8 with its meaning a)-d).
1 He won’t have arrived yet.
2 He’ll have arrived by now.
3 He can’t have arrived yet.
4 He might have arrived by now.
5 He could have arrived by now.
6 He should have arrived by now.
7 He must have arrived by now.
a) 95-100\% probability of his arrival. b) 80\% probability of his arrival.
c) 40-60\% probability of his arrival. d) 0\% probability of his arrival.
8 He couldn’t have arrived yet.
Exercise 5 (A, B, C, D)
Complete the article with the words and phrases from the list below. The ideas in the text will help you.
(= lose the signal)
Since the beginning of this year unemployment has fallen from 2.5 million to 1.8 million, and (1) .…. drop below 1.5 million by the end of the year. This (2) ..… be good news for the government as unemployment is a very important issue in the country at the moment. By the time of the next election unemployment (3) ….. even fall below 1 million – it all depends
on the world economy and is impossible to predict with any certainty. Unfortunately inflation is going up steadily. It (4) .…. reach 6\% by the end
of the year. However, the government (5)
..… take panic measures as inflation is similar to that of its trading partners and
(6) .…. return to levels of the 1980s when
rates of 30\% or 40\% a year were quite common.
Exercise 6 (A, B, D, E)
Martin and Anne have arrived at check-in at Heathrow Airport. Complete their dialogue with must, might can’t, must have, might have or can’t have. Use each word once only.
MARTIN: Oh no, I can’t find my passport.
ANNE: You’re joking.
MARTIN: No, really, it’s not in my briefcase.
ANNE: Well, it (1) .…. be in your other bag. Quick have a look.
MARTINE: It’s not there. Where on earth is it?
ANNE: Well, I don’t know. Do you think you (2) ….. left it at home?
MARTIN: That’s impossible. I (3) ….. done. I checked I had it with me four times before I left the house.
ANNE: OK, calm down. What about checking your coat pockets? You never know, it (4) ….. be there.
MARTINE: No, it isn’t. This is ridiculous. We’re going to miss our flight.
ANNE: Look, you (5) ….. be looking in the right place.
CHECK-IN ATTENDENT: Excuse me, sir. Is that your passport there on the ground?
MARTIN: Oh, yes, so it is. Ah, I (6) ….. dropped it when I was looking for the tickets.
(= write using notes made earlier)