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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#8), by Dennis Oliver

 
 

Modal Verbs #8:
Individual Modal Verbs

 

The English modal verbs are often challenging for learners
of English. This happens for many reasons, including both
grammar and meaning.

In previous Hints, we looked at might in present and future
time, and we saw that
may often changes to might after
a past verb in indirect speech.

There also another past form for might: might have


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Might #3:
Might Have

 

The modal auxiliary might has one form that is used only
for past situations:
might have. This form is followed by
the past participle of a verb (might have seen / known /
left / forgotten / heard / etc.)

Like may have, might have can mean that something
was possible in the past. However, it also has another very
different meaning: something was possible in the past, but
it
didn't happen.


Examples:

It's possible that Joe failed the test. =
Joe
may have / might have failed the test.

Joe almost failed the test, but he was lucky and passed it. =
Joe
might have failed the test, but he was lucky and
passed it.

Maybe Mary left early. =
Mary
may have / might have left early.

It was possible for Mary to leave early, but she decided
not to. = Mary
might have left early, but she decided
not to.

Maybe Bill forgot about the meeting. =
Bill
may have / might have forgotten about the meeting.

Bill almost forgot about the meeting, but fortunately
Suzie reminded him. = Bill
might have forgotten about
the meeting if Suzie hadn't reminded him.

Maybe Frank didn't hear the news. =
Frank
may / might not have heard the news.

Frank almost didn't hear the news, but luckily Lisa
sent him an e-mail message about it. = Frank
might not
have heard the news if Lisa hadn't sent him an e-mail
message about it.


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Special Notes:

1.

When the outcome of something in the past
is not known, either
may have or might have
may be used:

A:   Why isn't Sam here yet?
B:   I don't know. He may have / might have
been delayed by traffic.

If the outcome of something in the past is known
and something was possible but it didn't happen,
only
might have may be used:

A:   Bob is really lucky, isn't he?
B:   Yes, he definitely is. He might have
been badly injured if he hadn't been
wearing his seat belt during the accident.

     
2. Might have, like may have, has a contracted form:
might've, Because the 've sounds the same as "of,"
native speakers sometimes write *"might of"--
which is completely wrong.
     
3.   In the casual everyday speech of many speakers of
American English, the pronunciation of
might've
is often difficult to understand because it sounds
something like "MYduh." (The "t" in
might've
sounds something like a "d" or "r.")


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Next: more on modal verbs
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