Learn how to use common English modal verbs correctly. Today we practice and test your understanding of some very common English modal verbs as we improve your spoken English. It’s an important part of improving your spoken English. So I’m going to use a quiz to make sure you have grasped the concept solidly. I explain the answers to the quiz right at the end - so stick around for that!
English speakers use these common modal verbs all the time. If you ever want to speak English fluently, you’re going to have to become comfortable with modal verbs and how to use them correctly. Investing 15 minutes of your life into listening to this lesson is definitely going to be worth it.
As a bonus, I also show you how you can change the meaning of what you are saying, just by stressing and changing the tone of your voice.
You will learn how you use modal verbs can turn the conversation from a polite request into an urgent command.
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Adept English is a great way to improve your spoken English. We created our listen and learn a system of learning around the science of language acquisition. Listening to our lesson will improve your English with lots and lots of real life conversations. The more you listen, the better your English comprehension, grammar, and pronunciation will be.
Modal Grasped Comfortable Concept Obligation Polite Intention Hypothetical Jeopardy
So you want to improve your spoken English, don’t you? You want to be able to do English conversation? And all the time in spoken English we use modal verbs, which can be difficult to get right. Let’s have a look today at the common modal verbs ‘would’, ‘should’ and ‘could’. You need to know that you’re using them correctly - so I’ll give you a quiz, I’ll give you a lesson on them and then I’ll explain the answers to the quiz right at the end - so stick around for that! You’ll be able to tell how much you learned in this lesson.
Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.
So you know these words already - ‘could’, ‘should’ and ‘would’. The difficulty is in being confident in the way that you use them. They sound similar, yet they have different uses and different meanings and it’s easy to get them wrong. You’ll need to use them so much when you’re speaking English that a bit of extra work on these words will really help you. Of course, I’ll give you examples, because the differences in meaning can be hard to grasp when you’re first using them.
A word first of all on pronunciation - these words are all spelt with the same ending - OULD. But they’re all pronounced as if they end in UD - so ‘could’ as though it’s CUD, ‘would’ as though it’s WUD and ‘should’ as though it’s SHUD. But of course, don’t spell them like that - they are all spelt OULD.
OK, so how to use them correctly? Let’s do a quiz first of all, to see how much you know already. I’ll give you a sentence with a missing word and where you hear this sound [beep], you choose whether it’s ‘would’, ‘should’ or ‘could’ there. And then I’ll give you a suggestions about the meaning or the context, to help you choose the right word.
So an example? Please ….. you pass my coffee? (Polite request). So the answer here would be ‘Please would you pass my coffee?’ Or you might say ‘Please could you pass my coffee?’
Most of the questions will only have one right answer though. Here goes, let’s give it a try.
- …... you help me with directions?’ (Polite request)
- I …... go to France this summer because I haven’t seen my sister for a while. (Obligation)
- ‘You …... get a cleaner, then you can go out on a Friday afternoon’. (Polite suggestion)
- When I was a child, I …... go every summer to stay in France with my sister. (Past habit)
- If I book some holiday, I …... go this summer to stay in France with my sister. (Future possibility)
- If I had a cleaner, I …... go out on a Friday afternoon instead hoovering my carpets’ (Future intention)
- When I was a child, I …... ride my bike all day, without getting tired. (‘Can’ in the past)
- If you think your wrist is broken, you …... go to the hospital. (Strong advice)
- If I had lots of money, I …... buy all those things that I’ve always wanted. (Future intention or Future Possibility)
- You …... do your homework now. (Polite suggestion)
- You …… do your homework now! (Command)
OK. Was that difficult? I’ll run through the answers at the end. But first of all, I’m going to give you 4 ways to use ‘could’, 3 ways to use ‘would’ and 2 ways to use ‘should’. This might make it easier! This will help you. OK, first one.
You can use ‘could’ to make a polite request. ‘Could you help me with my suitcase?’ or ‘Please could you keep your voice down?’ ‘Could you message me when you’re nearly here?’. Second one?
You can use ‘could’ to make a polite suggestion to other people. A ‘suggestion’ is when you help someone arrive at an idea or a plan. ‘You could try the restaurant on the seafront’, ‘You could try pilates to see if it helps your back problems’. ‘He could take the exam anyway, to see if he passes’. So all of those ‘coulds’ are ‘polite suggestions’. Third use of ‘could’?
OK, so a third way of using the modal verb ‘could’? If you want to say ‘can’ in the past, you have to use ‘could’. Examples might be ‘When I was a child, I could stand on my head, but now it hurts if I do that!’. Or ‘When I was younger, I could drink lots of wine, but now I get a terrible hangover’. So that’s ‘could’ in the past tense - something that you were able to do and you did it regularly, like a habit. Last type of ‘could’?
So the fourth and last way of using ‘could’? Here you are talking about something which might happen in the future. It’s a hypothetical situation, it’s a future possibility. It’s not certain yet, but it could happen! And often, if you can use ‘might’, MIGHT, then this meaning of ‘could’ will fit. So ‘It might rain this afternoon’ could also be said as ‘It could rain this afternoon’. Or ‘The economy could tank in the last quarter of the year’. Or ‘she could find herself without a job’.
So that’s ‘could’. What about 3 uses of the modal verb ‘would’?
First one - again it’s another way of making a polite request, so it’s interchangeable with ‘could’ in this sense. ‘Would you help me lift down my suitcase?’ ‘Would you very kind and make me a cup of tea?’ Or ‘Would your son like to come with us bowling this afternoon?’. So when ‘would’ is used as a polite request, ‘could’ will do as well. The next one’s different.
So you can’t use ‘could with these. So this second use of modal verb ‘would’? Again it’s a hypothetical situation, but it’s different from ‘could’. If you use ‘would’ to show intention, you’re talking about an action, something that you intend to do. You often use this with a ‘but’ or with a condition, an ‘if’. ‘I would go to the show, but I’m not sure who else is going’.
Or ‘I would go to the show if my best friend Heather is going’. So this type of ‘would’ means hypothetically I am willing to do this thing - but there might be a condition or a problem, an ‘if’ or a ‘but’. The difference between ‘could’ and ‘would’ - ‘could’ tends to be about whether something is possible - whereas ‘would’ tends to be about whether someone wants to do something. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ ‘No thankyou, I’d like a glass of champagne.’ And the third use of ‘would’?
So we use it to talk about a habit in the past - something we used to do regularly. So ‘When I was a child, my mother would take me swimming on Wednesday afternoons’. That was our habit. ‘When I was younger, I would dream of having a big house’. Or ‘When you were young, you would read books with a torch under your duvet’. So that’s ‘would’ to talk about a habit someone had in the past.
What about ‘should’?
So the first use of should - strong advice, strong suggestion or even giving a command. It’s a bit of a range that, isn’t it? Strong suggestion, strong advice or a command. You can probably tell by the tone of voice the person is using here. If you want to impress upon someone that they need to do something, take a particular course of action, you might use ‘should’. On seeing someone’s injured hand, you might say ‘You should get that seen to - quickly’. Or you might say ‘You should take those books back to the library immediately. They’re overdue’.
Two construction workers giving orders over a radio. Do you struggle to understand how to use modal verbs in spoken English? Do you want to learn quickly? Then this lesson is for you!
If we are talking to adults, we often soften ‘should’ with something like ‘probably’ so that it doesn’t sound like we’re being too bossy. ‘You should probably see a doctor about your hand’. Or ‘You should probably go to the bank to sort out your account’. This is because saying to someone ‘You should’ or ‘They should’ can sound bossy otherwise, so we just use an adverb to soften it. Finally...
So this is where we’re talking about a more general obligation. You might say to yourself ‘I should do more exercise’. ‘I should eat more fruit’. ‘I should lose weight’. ‘I should get going’. ‘I should be in the car now’. Or ‘He should do more reading’. Or ‘Those students should do more essay writing’.
So that was 4 ways to use ‘could’, 3 ways to use ‘would’ and 2 ways to use ‘should’.
OK, let’s see if you understand the differences a bit better. Let’s do the answers to the quiz on ‘could’, ‘would’ and ‘should’.
First though, a quick reminder that if you want some practice at English conversation, we still have Adept English Course One Activate Your Listening available to buy on our website at adeptenglish.com. This will help you further improve your understanding of English conversation.
Right, now let’s go through that quiz. Let’s see what you learned from this lesson and if the quiz is any easier now.
- ‘WOULD you help me with directions?’ If you said ‘COULD you help me with directions?’ That’s fine too. (So we’re talking here - polite request)
- I SHOULD go to France this summer because I haven’t seen my sister for a while. (Obligation - and pleasure!)
- ‘You COULD get a cleaner, then you can go out on a Friday afternoon’. (That’s a polite suggestion)
- When I was a child, I WOULD go every summer to stay in France with my sister. (Past habit)
- If I book some holiday, I COULD go this summer to stay in France with my sister. (Future possibility)
- ‘If I had a cleaner, I WOULD go out on a Friday afternoon instead hoovering your carpets’ (Future intention - so again ‘could’ would be fine here too)
- When I was a child, I COULD ride my bike all day, without getting tired. (That’s ‘can’ in the past)
- If you think your wrist is broken, you SHOULD go to the hospital. (Strong advice)
- If I had lots of money, I WOULD buy all those things that I’ve always wanted. (That’s future intention, but COULD for future possibility would do here too)
- You COULD do your homework now! (Polite suggestion)
- You SHOULD do your homework now! (Command)
OK, so was that quiz any easier, now that you know 4 ways to use could, 3 ways to use would and 2 ways to use should? Listen to this podcast a number of times, so you can really get the differences in how to use these words and the differences in the meaning. It will really help you when you come to speak
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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