The Purpose of This Book

This book is for students of English who have a high beginning proficiency level and above. The main purpose of this book is to increase your understanding of modal verbs and your ability to use them appropriately. Each unit introduces one meaning of modal verbs, for example: Ability, Advisability, Obligation, Request, etc. By the end of this book, you will understand the differences in meanings of modal verbs and you will be able to recognize and use modal verbs in your own reading, writing and speaking.

How to Use This Book

This book can be used either in class with a teacher or as a self-study text. The answers to the exercises are in the back of the book. Each unit has the same basic parts. They are described below.

I. Explanations
The explanations are in boxes. They show you the modal verbs and their meanings. There is also information about how to make questions and negative sentences. In each box, there are examples of the modal verbs in sentences.

In some of the units, there are "Be careful!" warnings because you might confuse the meaning of one modal with another. Read each of the boxes in the beginning of the units very carefully, so that you will understand the forms and meanings of modal verbs.

II. Exercises
The next part of the unit is a series of exercises. Usually, there are 5-7 exercises in each unit. The first few exercises are easier than the later exercises, which are more difficult. If you have questions while you are doing the exercises, look back at the boxes in the beginning of the units.

III. Readings
The final part of each unit is a reading that uses the modal verbs that are introduced in that unit. These readings are designed to help you better understand how modals are used and to give you more practice using them. Some of the readings have comprehension questions. Some of the readings have tasks for you to do after you do the reading.

Questions Often Heard about Modals

Do I have to know the meanings and uses of all of the modals? There are so many.

No, you don't. Our advice is for you to know the usual meanings and use one or two modals for each meaning. Over time, as your language skills increase, you can begin to use more modals in a number of different situations.

How do I know if this "can" is ability, request, permission or invitation?

This happens often with modals. You see the same modal with a number of different meanings. Look at the One-Word and Phrasal Modal charts that give the forms and meanings of modals. They are at the beginning of the book on pages ii and iii. The main way to understand the meaning of a modal verb is by its context. Ask yourself these questions: "What is the speaker or the writer trying to say? What is the situation?" These questions will help you understand the context.

Do I have to use modals?

No, you don't. You can avoid using modals. However, if you use them, you will speak more like a native speaker, and, in many cases, you will be able to say more in fewer words.

Look at this example:

It's possible that I will go out to dinner Six words
with my mother tonight.
Maybe I will go out to dinner Three words
with my mother tonight.

I may go out to dinner with my mother tonight. Two words

As you can see from these examples, in the sentence using "may," you say the same thing but with fewer words. Sometimes, when you're learning a language and you are afraid of making mistakes, you should try to keep things simple. We hope that this book will make modal verbs easier for you and that you will enjoy learning more about them.

J.K. and L.T.


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