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Modal verbs
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   • Verbs have a maximum of 5 forms - including the "-s" on he/she/it of the first form
(see table below)

•The usual names for these forms are confusing because they give the idea that they are just Past, Present or Future forms.But we understand from the situation and the vocabulary, not the grammar.

•A verb can have one or more of the 4 aspects, each of which emphasises the speaker's point of view.

Modal verbs have a remote form but can be followed by "have/be" and then a main verb, to give perfect and/or passive and/or continuous aspects.

Click on the diagram. It shows that the 4 go together to make a total of 8. This does not include passives or modals

How many forms can one verb have?

One form
Two forms
• a few

Three forms
• 20 of these

( 3 in the top 100)

Four forms
• thousands of these
Five forms
• about 104
( 18 in the top 100 )
must, ought
can, use to
cut, cost
build, cook
begin, go
could, used to
cuts, costs
builds, cooks
begins, goes
cutting, costing
built, cooked
began, went
building, cooking
begun, gone
beginning, going

"BE" has 8 forms :- be, am, is, are, was, were, been, being

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Simple - The basic, infinitive, form.

It may only exist as a verb (put, learn, bring, tell, ) or it can have the same form as a noun ( set, watch, shout, drink, play, walk, phone), and some of these are surprising at first e.g. mother, father, dog, bin.

It can be used for actions which the speaker sees as impersonal or objective fact- regular activities or timetables-or permanent states, facts.
It can give instructions. It is the only possible form after a modal verb.

I play guitar. (... not at this moment)

Come here! (... I'm not saying "Please")

We like chocolate. (... this is always true)

Can I come too?

It goes very fast

"DO" can show emphasis, of intensity, formality or contradiction, for example...

I do love you! (... really, really!)

You do need warm clothes

Do give my regards to your husband (... please)

Do be quiet! (...!!)

Yes, I do

The negative is made with DO (or a modal verb) + "not", which can change according to the subject...

I don't like cabbage

She doesn't do mornings

Don't be stupid!

It doesn't make sense

No, I don't

In speaking and informal writing " don't " is usual for native speakers; many international English speakers prefer " do not " or "does not ".


For emphasis "DO + not" is not contracted...

Do not feed the bears

You do not need a visa

No, I do not

Native speakers use this in formal and/or written situations, many international English speakers find this form easier to understand and use.

Other negative adverbs or expressions are possible

I hardly ever go to church

I have no time

Never do that again!

Money have I none... :-(

Do you like Heavy Metal?

Do you have any plans for this weekend?

Does he take sugar?

Do I have a choice?

Do you?

Don't they have a sister?

Don't you like chocolate?

Really? Don't you?

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         The 2nd form                            

Michael Lewis, in The English Verb (LTP) calls this;

The remote form...

Time, Hypothesis or Relationship
Click on the words above or scroll down for more information on remote forms.


Remote Time-

It can be used for a single action or repeated actions, or states.
Used always past

When I was a child...

I used to have a tortoise...

She phoned last week...

I did get you a present!

They did like the dessert!

Yes, I did too

I wasn't hungry

She didn't cook it

They didn't work

Sorry, I didn't see you

No, he didn't

I did not understand

They did not have a good year

I never did like that dog

Did you sleep well?

How much did it cost?

Didn't I feel stupid!?

Didn't she do well?

Remote Hypothesis-

If I was a child...(but I'm not)

If I had a dog... (but I don't)

Modal verbs are often used for remote hypothesis...

Imagine you could fly...(but you can't)

I might see you later...(perhaps)

Had I more time, I could have more friends

If I did have a dog, it would need a lot of attention

If I didn't have a computer I'd spend more time in the cafe

Were I ten years younger, I'd probably like techno more than I do

Remote Relationship-

What was the name, please?

you help me?

Would you mind if I sat here? 

(Usually with modal verbs)

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The 3rd form Perfect, Looking back, Retrospective- Emphasises action before a time. The time is understood from the context.

Have you seen the newspaper? ( know that I mean "today's newspaper")

Have you been to Australia? ( your life)

Have you had lunch? ( ...yet)

I'll phone you when I've finished. (...and not before)

She hasn't got a dog. (

She hasn't had a happy life. (...until now, and perhaps now too)


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"Past" Perfect aspect.

It is in a time which finished, and the Perfect aspect emphasises that it happened before that time or action finished.

e.g. I thought that we had met before.

       She asked me if I'd eaten.

No sooner had we sat down than I realised I'd forgotten my wallet

Remote Hypothesis-

e.g. I wouldn't be so hungry if I'd eaten breakfast... (but I only had a coffee)

Had she not worked so hard, she might not have had a heart attack


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Perfect Continuous, -Two aspects together, looking back before a time and emphasising a limited period, or a repeated action.
(More information about Continuous forms...)

                       e.g. Have you been waiting long? ( ...up to now?) 

This week we've been mostly eating rice.

 I've been driving for 8 years.

You should take a break when you've been typing for an hour


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The 4th form: "Continuous", Active, Progressive, Durative- Emphasises a limited period of time, or progress of an activity.

I'm working on the computer (...around this time)

I'm working on the computer tonight (...around that time)

When you're walking in the mountains, take a map

He's always playing computer games

There is also the prospective form- "be going to"

I think I'm going to sneeze!

It's going to be a long hot summer

Are you going to visit Australia?

We're not going to have a big wedding

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With the 2nd form it makes the "Past" Continuous.

Remote Time-

This opens up a simple 2nd form verb and emphasises or contrasts the activity.

                        e.g. I walked to the town (... nothing happened on the way)
                         I was walking to the town when... something happened

Remote Hypothesis-

If I was working in Italy, I could go to the market every morning

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"Past" Perfect Continuous is a compound of 3 aspects

Remote Time-

After I'd been living there for two years, I built a new room

Remote Hypothesis-

Had I been working in Italy last year, I might not have met you

If you hadn't been wearing your seatbelt, you could have been killed


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Updated 20/11/08©AcME


...also a remote form. Click here ...another remote form. Click here for details here ...this also contains a remote aspect. Click here here here for details of the "perfect" aspect ...the first form is the most common.Click here here here ...this is usually called the past form. It is used for remote time, but there are other forms of "remoteness". For more details click here...