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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#31), by Dennis Oliver

  

Modal Verbs #31:
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 this Hint, we'll continue to look at would.


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Would (#4)

 

The modal auxiliary would (negative would not, which is
often contracted to
wouldn't) has several uses. One of them
is in making a kind of "artificial past" for
will in indirect
(reported) speech. A second use is in making polite requests.
A third is in the common expression
would like.

Another way to use would is for present / future time in
unreal conditional ("if") sentences. Conditional sentences
of this kind refer to situations that are hypothetical, impossible,
contrary-to-fact, or unreal. In them,
would is used in place
of
will.


Examples:

If Julia had enough money, she would buy a car.

(hypothetical: Julia doesn't really have enough money,
so she won't buy a car.)


If Julia had a car, she
wouldn't need to take the bus to work.

(hypothetical: Actually, Julia doesn't have a car, so she
needs / will need to take the bus to work.)


If I were Julia, I
would borrow the money to buy a car.

(hypothetical: Actually, Julia isn't going to borrow the money
to buy a car. Because she isn't me, her ideas are different
from mine about borrowing money.)


If Julia borrowed the money to buy a car, she
would need
to make a car payment every month.

(hypothetical: Actually, Julia doesn't need to make a car
payment every month because she hasn't borrowed / didn't
borrow the money to buy a car.)

 


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Special Note:


In the unreal conditional sentences above, could and / or
might may also be possible:

If Julia had enough money, she could / might buy a car.

If Julia had a car, she might not need to take the bus to work.

If I were Julia, I might borrow the money to buy a car.

If Julia borrowed the money to buy a car, she might need
to make a car payment every month.

(In the first sentence, "she ___ buy" may refer to both
ability and possibility, so both
could and might are possible.
In the second, third, and fourth sentences, "she ___ (not)
buy" refers only to possibility, so forms of
might are
appropriate, but
could is not.)


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Next: more on modal verbs

 

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