As you watch the video, look at the examples of modals of deduction. They are in red in the subtitles. Then read the conversation below to learn more. Finally, do the grammar exercises to check you understand, and can use, modals of deduction correctly.
Daisy: This is so good. I … Oh, that might be Mum phoning from Bali. I’ll put her on speaker. Hi, Mum!
Ollie: Hi, Mum!
Sophie: Ah, you’re both there, good. Hi, how are you doing?
Daisy: We’re fine. Just having some pizza. And you?
Sophie: Really good. I’m about to eat too. I’ve just been walking round this amazing market and it’s made me hungry. I’m going to order a big bowl of spicy noodles.
Ollie: Don’t make us jealous, Mum! You’re always doing that.
Sophie: Sorry, love. I was thinking about you just now, actually, and I’ve got a little quiz prepared for you.
Daisy: A quiz?
Sophie: Yeah. Can you both see the phone? I’m going to send you some photos of Indonesian food. Tell me what the food is.
Daisy: OK, fire away.
Sophie: Right, picture number 1.
Daisy: Ooh, that looks a bit like pasta, burnt pasta, but it isn’t, is it?
Ollie: Nah, that’s a kind of insect. A kind of worm?
Sophie: Yes, very good. One point to Ollie, but that was an easy one. Next.
Ollie: They’re weird. They might be some kind of small pig.
Daisy: I don’t know. Are they little dogs?
Sophie: Ah, they’re actually a lot smaller than that. They’re bats.
Daisy and Ollie: Bats!
Sophie: Yeah, without wings. I haven’t seen anyone eating them, but someone must do. OK, next.
Ollie: That looks like tomato juice, but it can’t be, that would be too easy.
Daisy: It could be some kind of exotic fruit juice like papaya or mango.
Sophie: Nowhere near. I’ll give you a clue. It isn’t made from fruit or vegetables.
Ollie: So, it must come from an animal.
Daisy: I know, it’s blood!
Sophie: Yes, half a point to Daisy. Another half a point for the animal.
Daisy: A fish? A snake? A crocodile?
Sophie: Yep, a snake. It’s cobra blood, very good for the health, they say.
Ollie: Yeeuch, you’ve put me right off my pizza!
We use the modal verbs might, may and could + an infinitive form without to when we think it is possible that something is true. We use must when we are sure it is true and can’t when we are sure it isn’t true.
So we can use might, may and could for making guesses?
Yes. They’re all used when we are not sure about something, but we think that it is possible that it is true.
They might be some kind of small pig.
But could I also say, 'They could be a kind of pig' or 'They may be a kind of pig'?
Yes, you could. The meanings are really similar. You can choose whether to use may, might or could.
Ah, OK. So if I'm not sure about something I can use may, might or could and the meaning is almost the same. That's easy to remember.
Yes, that's right. But there's something else which affects the meaning, and that's how you say it; the 'intonation'. If you stress may, might or could it sounds less probable.
It could be mango juice. (less likely)
It could be mango juice. (more likely)
OK, and if I’m sure about something, what modals do I use?
We use must if we think something is true and can’t if we think something isn’t true.
So, it must come from an animal.
That looks like tomato juice, but it can’t be, that would be too easy.
Do the verb forms change in the third person?
No, they don’t change. They are the same in the first, second and third person.
Great! I think I like these modals!
You're right. Once you know the rules, they're pretty easy. Don't forget they are always followed by the infinitive form without to. We also use may/might + be + -ing for something happening right now or a possible future arrangement.
That might be Mum phoning from Bali.
She might be going to Australia.
You also used 'it could be a kind of pig' for describing something in the present.
Yes, but that was with the verb to be, a stative verb. We use the –ing form with active or dynamic verbs.
I see. Is there anything else to be careful about?
Yes, if you are talking about possibility in the past you need the modal + have + past participle.
She might have taken those photos in China.
I may have thrown it away by mistake.
Hmm. I think I may need to practise these verbs a bit.
Yes, you might be right!
Worksheets and downloads
What might you have for supper tonight? Do you think you may visit the UK one day?