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Education Report - Everyday Grammar: May, Might, Must - Modals of Certainty and Hope

更新时间:2015/8/1 8:45:14 来源:本站原创 作者:佚名

For VOA Learning English, this is Everyday Grammar.

This week's Everyday Grammar looks at how to use the modals may, must, and might.

Modal verbs (called modalsfor short) are auxiliary verbsthat express a speaker’s attitudeand the strength of that attitude. There are about 17 modals in English. They have multiple meanings and sometimes overlap in ways that are confusing to English learners. Today we will look at how we use these modals to express how certain, or sure, you are of something.

Degrees of certainty in the present and past

Grammar expert Betty Azar explains that these modals tell us how sure speakers are about what they are saying. A person who is 100% sure uses the verb beas in "I am sick." If they are mostly sure, say 95%, they will use the modal must, as in "I mustbe sick." When speakers are about 50% sure, they will use the modals may, might, or could; as in "I maybe sick. I mightbe sick. I couldbe sick."

Might as the past tense of may

Might is used as the past form of may. For example:

"I may take more pictures." (This is a direct quote)
She said she might take more pictures. (This is reported speech)

Notice how maychanged to might. Modals change to a past form in reported speech.

Yesterday we had a staff meeting. I looked around the room and noticed my co-worker Anna was not there. I asked, "Where's Anna?" and got three answers from my co-workers.

Jonathan answered, "Oh, she maybe making a video in the studio."
Kelly said, "She mighthave stayed home today."
Adam told us, "She called me to say she was doing an interview at the Capitol this morning. So she muststill be working over there."

In this conversation, you can see a change from mayto might. Mayshows the speaker is not sure in the present moment: "She may be making a video." May changes to mightto express a possible state in the past: "She mighthave stayed home." Finally, mustexpresses a strong certainty: "She mustbe working there."

People today do not always follow these rules about present and past tense for mayand might. You will hear both words to express the same degree of certainty. English speakers still express strong certainty in phrases like, "It mustbe love."

Listen for the word mightin this song by The Cars.

You might think it's foolish
or maybe it's untrue
You might think I'm crazy
but all I want is you

By using might, the singer is expressing about 50% certainty.

Degrees of uncertainty in the future

Now let's look at how we express certainty about the future.

My friend Andy has a test next week. He has studied very hard for months. I told him, "You willdo well on the test. Don't worry." I believe with 100% certainty that Andy will pass the test.

On the other hand, Carrie, who has to take the same test, just began studying last week. I warned her, "You mightnot do well on the test. You should study more this weekend." I am not so sure that Carrie will pass. In fact, I doubt it. I express that future possibility with might.

May is sometimes used to express hope

The idea of possible future events lets English speakers use may to talk about hopes.  You will see mayon greeting cards and in prayers or religious writings.

A quick look at Google Ngrams shows that few people are using may in this way. Now, it is much more common to hear "I hope that."

The group Celtic Womansings of their wishes in May it Be:

May it be an evening star,
Shines down upon you.
May it be when darkness falls,
Your heart will be true.

Traditional poems and prayers also use mayto express positivesentiments. This is part of an old Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.

With that in mind, the Everyday Grammar team says, "May you find our articles useful." 

I’m Jill Robbins.

And I'm Adam Brock.

Words in This Story

certain- adj.not having any doubt about something; convinced or sure

positive- adj.thinking that a good result will happen: hopeful or optimistic

modal verb - a verb (such as can, could, shall, should, ought to, will, or would) that is usually used with another verb to express ideas such as possibility, necessity, and permission

auxiliary verb- a verb (such as have, be, may, do, shall, will, can, or must) that is used with another verb to show the verb's tense, to form a question, etc.

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