Sophie's in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year. At home it’s cold and Oliver is making soup.

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We use the modal verbs can, could and would to offer to do things for people or to invite them to do something. We also use them to make requests or ask permission to do something.

What are modal verbs?

They are a type of auxiliary verb we use with other verbs to add more meaning to the verb. After modal verbs we use the infinitive form without to.

Modals are not used with the auxiliary verb do; to form the negative, we add not after the modal. To ask questions, we put the modal in front of the subject.

Hey, you couldn't pass me that plate, could you?        
Can I have a taste?    
                 

Modals do not change in the third person singular form (he/she/it) in the present simple.

Sophie can send photos.

Modals seem quite easy to use. What do we use them for?

We use them for lots of different things, and the same modal verbs can have several different uses. Today we are just going to look at offers, invitations, requests and permission.

Right, fire away! I mean, you can fire away if you like.

Oh, you’re giving me permission. Thank you. We use would + like  a lot for offers. It’s very useful for different situations.

Would you like to come to our house for dinner?
Would you like some cake?
Would you like to celebrate Chinese New Year with us?

For more informal invitations you can use can + get. Get means buy in this context.

 Can I get you a drink? 

We also use  would  and  can  for offering to help someone.

Would you like some help?
Can I help you?
Can I give you a hand with that?

That sounds very strange, Can I give you a hand?.

It just means Can I help you?.

We also use modals for asking for something (making a request or asking permission).

Can you do me a favour? (more informal)
Could you say thanks to your mum for me? (more polite)
I’ve finished my homework. Can I go now? (more informal)
Could I speak to Amy, please? (more polite)


What’s the answer? Yes, you can. / No, you can’t.?

Not normally. Usually the positive answer is:

Yes, sure. / Yes, of course. / Certainly.

We usually avoid a direct “No” in the negative answer. We’d say something like:

Well, I’m not sure. / Tomorrow night’s a bit difficult. / Um, actually, she’s not here at the moment.

Ah, so you need to listen carefully to see if the answer is yes or no.

Absolutely. We don’t like saying no in English.

We also like to use longer structures in more formal situations:

Do you think you could do me a favour?           
Would you mind closing the window, please?
Could you tell me how to get to the town centre, please?

Yes, but isn’t the pronunciation important too?

Ah, you mean the intonation? Yes, that’s very important, I’m glad you mentioned that. It can make all the difference between sounding polite and rude. It’s very important to get it right if you want a stranger to do something for you. You need to get 'up and down' movement in your voice.

Right. One more thing, do you think you could  help me with my homework now? It would only take about an hour.

Um, well, actually …

 

Total votes: 333
Language level: 

Discussion

Would you like to join in celebrations from a different culture to yours? Could you tell us about a typical celebration in your country?

Comments

Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 7 October, 2017 - 04:01

Sorry, the videos aren't downloadable but we hope you enjoy viewing them here on the site. :)
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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Zyad's picture
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Zyad 15 July, 2017 - 19:47

I think that is the best way to learn about other cultures.I would like enjoy it.It's great for English learning.

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Nicegirl's picture
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Nicegirl 23 June, 2017 - 07:47

Yes, of course, I would like to celebrate a Halloween in different countries. For example in Canada. I want to celebrate it with amazing costumes, doiing parties.

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Yashachi 18 June, 2017 - 16:45

I'm quite confused between Could and Would. Do "Could you explain this, please?" and "Would you explain this, please?" are the same?. And if they are different, how can I distinguish it? Thank you.

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 20 June, 2017 - 08:55

Hi Yashachi. It's a good question. I would say that both 'could' and 'would' are possible in your example. Both express a polite request. In both cases, it's good to add 'please' too, as you did :)

However, apart from polite requests, other meanings and uses of 'could' and 'would' differ, as you can see from other examples on this page. So, they can't always both be used.

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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Sacrifice's picture
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Sacrifice 8 April, 2017 - 17:12

yes, sure. i would like to celebrate in other country, it's very interesting for me. just for adding knowledge and experience. In my country, Indonesia have a lot different culture celebration. because my country is consist of several culture. the one of them is celebration for the employees that commonly called as may day. Every first day in may, all of the employees get together at the street to celebration may day. They usually expressing what them need to get a walfare for the employees.

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pparedes984's picture
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pparedes984 3 January, 2017 - 03:28

I'm not interested in join to another culture holiday the true is that I don't mind those things.
In my country there are a lot of fun celebrations that we enjoy with the family and friends like the Day of the deaths or en new years eve the mans dress like womens

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VShirleyCh's picture
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VShirleyCh 2 January, 2017 - 15:05

If I would like to know a different culture, from another country, but I would not like to realize the celebrations just observe, I live in Ecuador and there are many cultures and has different celebrations as in the city of Otavalo in the province of Imbabura that year after year Celebrating the Inti Raymi I do not know what it is about but I know it is something of the birth of the sun, this is realized by the indigenous culture of my country.

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Mabdelaziz's picture
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Mabdelaziz 26 November, 2016 - 10:48

Hi learn English team,
Hope you are doing well.
I have a question out of topic if you do not mind.Could you please clarify is the following statement passive form or what "I see you have been busy"

Also I have other question mentioned in the above practice " Could you tell me where the nearest bank is, please?"
could you please advise if we can say where is the nearest bank,please? and give the same meaning.

Thank you for your help.

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 27 November, 2016 - 13:11

Hi Mabdelaziz. Thanks for your questions.

The first sentence isn't passive. The passive is made of some form of 'be' (e.g. is / are / was / will be / has been), and a past participle (e.g. written / made / finished). The sentence 'you have been busy' includes the verb 'be' in the present perfect (have been), which is the same form as the passive. But, it doesn't have a past participle. Instead, there's an adjective (busy).

Another way to think about it is this: passive sentences can often add by + an agent noun to show who performed the action (e.g. The thief was caught by the police. / You have been chosen by the school principal to represent the school at the national competition). But it doesn't make sense to add a 'by' phrase to 'you have been busy'. 

For your second question, yes - you can say that too. It means the same thing. But, the question using 'could' is considered more polite.

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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Mabdelaziz's picture
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Mabdelaziz 28 November, 2016 - 08:10

Dear Jonatahn ,
Thank you very much.
If you don't mind I want to clarify my point about my second question.It is about "IS" phrase .
"Where the nearest bank is? & " Where is the nearest Bank? my question is there a different between two sentences?
Once again thank you for you assistance.

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 28 November, 2016 - 15:42

Yes, there’s a difference. Only the second one is correct. Let’s have a look, and I’ll mark the subject and verb with (S) and (V) so you can see the structure.

  1. Where the nearest bank (S) is (V)? (incorrect)
  2. Where is (V) the nearest bank (S)? (correct)

I’ve underlined the subjects. Sentences have the subject first and then the verb, but questions are the opposite: the auxiliary verb or ‘be’ first, and then the subject. These are questions, so ‘is’ must come before ‘the nearest bank’. That’s why sentence 2 is correct.

But, there’s something else to think about. Some polite questions start with “Could you …”, “Can you …”, “Do you know …” or something similar. Here are two examples:

  1. Could you tell me where the nearest bank (S) is (V)? (correct)
  2. Could you tell me where is (V) the nearest bank (S)? (incorrect)

This seems the opposite of the first pair of examples! Have you already worked out why? Actually, at the beginning of the question, there is “Could (V) you (S)”, so the question already has the verb/subject structure that a question needs to have. The rest of the question therefore follows the normal order (subject first, then verb).

It’s tricky! Does that make sense?

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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EriD's picture
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EriD 8 November, 2016 - 23:29

I would like to join another country's celebrate. I really interested that. In my country, They celebrate for new year.

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Martin159's picture
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Martin159 8 September, 2016 - 02:41

I am from Colombia. This country have a lot of celebration though i don´t actually like to go in for they because are very loud, although i like the 20th of july because it´s the independence day, in my town the people normally make a parade at the central street and install a country flag in their home´s yard.

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aminetugcea 19 August, 2016 - 21:25

we festival of sacrifices.İn my country, we sacrifice to cow for god every year. cos it is a worship.

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LordDreamer's picture
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LordDreamer 29 January, 2016 - 13:59

Could you explain me one thing, please? In my native language it's quite common to speak monotonously, but that's not a rule actually. And in the dialogue it is said "You need to get 'up and down' movement in your voice" I don't really understand how's that. Thanks!

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JoEditor's picture
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JoEditor 30 January, 2016 - 15:22

Hi LordDreamer,
That's a good question. The 'up and down movement in your voice' that is described in the explanation is called 'intonation' and it's really important when you're speaking English. First of all read this blog post all about intonation: https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-english-learners-can-improve-intonation  It was written by a British Council teacher in Bangladesh and it explains it very well. Also this article on our TeachingEnglish website explains intonation: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/intonation Read the information on those two websites and then come back and ask if you have more questions. I hope that will help you. 
Best wishes, Jo (LearnEnglish Teens Team) 

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princess2001's picture
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princess2001 12 December, 2015 - 05:25

No, not at all. We celebrate two big festivals a year in our country which feature wearing new costumes, decorating ourselves, making delicious food, wishing each other, having fun with relatives. these festivals are anxiously awaited the whole year.

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Tina - Coordinator's picture
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Tina - Coordinator 10 October, 2015 - 17:18

Hi starry930,
You could take a look here which will give you some more ideas how to use can and could :)
I hope it helps!
Tina (LearnEnglish Teen Team)

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Lillian's picture
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Lillian 4 September, 2015 - 15:03

Hi, I don't quite understand "would you mind...." this type of question.
For example, if someone asked: "Would you mind lending me the book?" I'd love to lend the book to that person, shall I say:"Yes, of course." or "Not at all"?
I mean, when I say yes, does it mean "yes, I mind" or "no, I don't mind"?
It is so confusing to me...
Thanks in advance for answering my question!

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 15 September, 2015 - 09:21

Hi Lillian. This is quite confusing but let me try to explain it. If somebody asks Would you mind doing XYZ for me? here are some possible answers.

  • No, not at all. (= I don't mind. This is agreeing to the request.)
  • Sorry, / Actually, I'm a bit busy now. (= not agreeing to the request. It's normal to say why - give some excuse.)

If you say Yes, of course, it may be unclear what you mean. Technically, it would mean Of course I mind but it would be strange because normally we wouldn't refuse a request that strongly. 

Does that help?

Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
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Jonathan - Coor... 11 August, 2015 - 10:23

Hi DoctorHiStreet! I'm glad you like the video but I'm afraid it's not available for download. Sorry about that.
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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DROPE's picture
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DROPE 9 July, 2015 - 08:31

of course! , I think that is the best way to learn about other cultures.
In Ecuador we have typical celebrations like "MAMÁ NEGRA", that is a traditional festival in the city of Latacunga, in homage to different towns, The celebration features parades, It is a parade of popular characters, military, civil, ecclesiastical and mythical that give luster to the procession, each of these characters are chosen for their performance and work performed each year..

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