Should have, could have, would have…

Hello everyone!

I am happy to tell you that the previous post on Conditional sentences was a complete success! So thank you guys! đŸ™‚ I suppose you must be looking forward to taking a look at the answers for the exercises in the post, aren’t you? Well, here you go!


  1. If I didn’t like chocolate so much, I wouldn’t have weight problems.
  2. If Sally helps me I will be able to finish my report on time.
  3. If my sister and I didn’t have such strong personalities, we would not have so many arguments.
  4. If _I were you I would see a doctor about that cough
  5. I’ll visit John in London in September if I can save enough money.

As for today’s post, we are going to talk about modal verbs, especially focusing on the differences in structure depending on whether we are using them to talk about the past or a present / future time.

First of all, let’s focus on meaning:

Most modal verbs can be used to express probability ( for example must, might, may, could, can’t, should, etc.) but modal verbs can also express permission, obligation, ability, suggestions, advice or prohibition. Take a look at the following sentences, what do they express?

  1. I can’t swim but I am starting lessons next week.ABILITY
  2. Sarah can’t be in class, today is a bank holiday. PROBABILITY
  3. You should go to the doctor and get that cough checked.ADVICE
  4. (Phone rings) That should be Jenna, she said she’d phone me today.PROBABILITY
  5. I must start studying if I want to pass my exams.PERSONAL OBLIGATION
  6. You haven’t eaten all day, you must be really hungry!PROBABILITY

As you can see the same modal verb can have different meanings, depending on the context.

Important changes in meaning

We need to be especially careful when using must and have to in negative form as their meaning changes.



You have to stop your car if you see a red traffic light.

(Obligation, it’s the law)


You don’t have to drink anything but water if you don’t want to.

(It’s not necessary)



You must drink at least 8 glasses of water a day in order to stay hydrated.

(Personal obligation/recommendation)


You mustn’t jump a traffic light.

(Prohibition. It’s against the law)



Modal verbs are followed by a bare infinitive (infinitive without to) to talk about a present/future time.


I should do my homework before dinner

I have to pass this exam if I want to graduate this year.


To express a past time the general structure is the following: modal verb + have + past participle of the main verb.


I should have done my homework before dinner.


I had to pass the exam if I wanted to graduate that year.


If you want to practice modal verbs, why not write a short story? You’re welcome to give it a go and leave your story at the reception of our school (students only) so I can correct it and give it back to you.

In the meantime, here’s a link with listening and exercises for you to practice:

Modal verbs and Listening: ‘The car accident’


Have a wonderful week! đŸ˜€



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