Lesson Transcript

​​Hi, everybody! My name is Alisha.
In this lesson, we're going to look at modal verbs with a specific pattern.
We're going to look at a modal verb plus “be” plus a verb in the -ING form or an adjective following.
So, let's get started!
First, I want to review the modal verbs.
So, if you don't know, these are the modal verbs in English, in blue color here. I want to review what the meanings of these are.
So first, let's start with “may” and “might.”
We use “may” and “might” in the positive form, when we want to express, like a moderate chance of something, like 50% or 70% chance of something. When we use it in the negative form, as in “may not” or “might not,” it means like maybe a 20% to 30% chance of something, so a moderately low or a moderately high chance of something.
The next pair of modal verbs is “can” and “could.”
So, “can” and “could,” we use these for just neutral possibility. We want to say something is possible, we can use “can” or we can use “could” to describe that. So, when you're making requests, for example, in present tense, these have the same meaning, but “could” sounds a little bit more polite. We also use “could” to talk about things we have the ability or like were possible in the past.
When we use “can” and “could” with the negative, as in “cannot” or “could not,” it reflects impossibility, so that thing is not or was not possible. So, positive is just neutral possibility. It's possible. Negative is impossible. That's the meaning here.
Also, going back to these “may” and “might,” some people ask about the difference between these. It's just that in American English anyway, we use “might” a lot more. “May” tends to sound a bit more formal and we use that when we are making requests, like we're asking permission for something.
Okay. I'm gonna leave “must” for a little bit later. It's the last one.
So, let's look at “shall” and “should” now.
“Shall,” I have in parentheses here because it's not used so much in everyday Modern American English, but you may hear it from time to time, especially when you're reading. So, maybe, reading an old book or maybe from time to time in the news. You might hear it in, like a formal speech too.
But I want to focus on “should,” should. So, in the positive, we use “should” to express an expected or a desired state, something we want or something we think ought to happen. So, I've just used “ought” as well, which is kind of an old-fashioned word, which means “should.”
When we use “should not,” the negative form, it means something that is not desired or it's not expected in some way, so the opposite of the positive form.
The last pair is “will” and “would.”
“Will” and “would.”
So, future certainty is expressed with “will.” Something is going to happen in the future, but we use “will” in like modal patterns, like we'll see here today. We don't use “going to” in quite the same way, so I'm not going to cover that in this lesson, but we use “will” in these kinds of patterns to express something with certainty, so we have a pretty good idea of something that is going to happen in the future.
“Would,” however, expresses an unreal situation. So, in positive, “would not,” and- I'm sorry. In positive, “would,” and in negative, “would not.” Those both refer to unreal situations, the only difference is that one is positive and one is negative. With “will not,” we're also expressing certainty, something is not going to happen in the future.
So, finally, the last one here is “must,” must.
So, “must” does not have a pair. “Must” is just “must.” When we use “must” in the positive, it's reflective of very high certainty. So, “may” and “might” looks like moderate, like 50% to 70% or so. “Must” is high certainty, so like 90% or 95%, very close to sure.
On the other hand, “must not,” in the negative, is impossible. So, there's a very, very low chance of something, so like zero percent or like 5%, something very, very close to impossible.
So, “could not be” means it's not possible for something. “Must not be,” it sounds like there's maybe like 5% or 3% chance, so very very close to zero there.
Okay. So, now that we have refreshed a little bit our modal verb’s knowledge, I wanna talk about how to make this lesson's pattern. When we make the pattern, we use a modal verb, this can be positive or negative, then we use “be.” Then, we use either a verb in the -ING form. That's the progressive or continuous form, or we use an adjective.
So, for this lesson I want to focus just on these two.
Okay. So, what does this pattern mean? What does this pattern make?
When we use this pattern, it's used to express a possible and impossible, a planned or an unplanned or a desired state. So, there are many different options here, yes. That's because there are many different modal verbs we can use in this pattern. So when I say “possible,” for example, it's like “can” or “could” or maybe “may” or “might,” like there's a chance of something.
“Impossible” would be like “could not” or “must not.”
Planned or unplanned could mean like “will,” for example.
Or a desired state could mean “should.”
So, there are many different ways that we can use these to create different feelings in these sentences. So, for this lesson I want to look at a lot of examples that use these modal verbs to express a lot of different feelings.
So, let's begin!
The first example sentence is this:
“You [should] be [sleeping]!”
“You [should] be [sleeping]!”
Here, my modal verb is “should.” So, “should” expresses an expected or desired state. In this case, “you should be sleeping,” sleeping. So “sleeping,” this is my verb in the -ING form. That means the speaker thinks the listener's status or the listener’s state, the listener's condition ought to be sleeping. So, this means, the listener is not sleeping, but the speaker thinks the listener, the desired condition for the listener is “sleeping.” So, the speaker is not sleeping, “You should be sleeping.” Maybe, it's late at night, you're a child, you should be sleeping.
So, we use this “should” to show our expectation or our desire. We use “be” and then the -ING form to show this is the condition for now that I think is best for you, that I desire for you.
“You should be sleeping.”
That's what this means.
So, let's compare this then to a sentence with a different modal verb and an adjective.
“He [might] be [busy].”
“He [might] be [busy].”
So, here, instead of an -ING verb, I'm using an adjective.
“He might be busy.”
My modal verb is “might,” so “might” expresses a moderate chance of something. I have it in the positive, so this expresses the speaker thinks it's possible the subject, a man (he), is busy. So, I call someone, he doesn't answer the phone, mm, “he might be busy.” So there's a moderate chance he is busy.
“He might be busy.”
So, this is a situation where, yes, you could use “could,” like “He could be busy” or “He must be busy.” So those all make grammatical sense. So, yes, you can use those, but they just change the feeling of the sentence slightly.
For example:
“He could be busy” just sounds like simple possibility. It's just a possibility.
“He might be busy” sounds a little bit more like there's a chance, there's a pretty good chance of something.
“He must be busy” means there's a very high chance of it.
So, that's the difference here. They are all correct. It's up to you to choose which feeling you want to communicate in your sentence.
Let's move on to the next example.
“We [will] be [having] a meeting at 3PM.”
“We [will] be [having] a meeting at 3PM.”
So, here, we’ve used “will.”
“Will” expresses future certainty, so we know that something is going to happen. We can use the modal verb “will” to describe that.
In this case, I have “having.” So the verb “have” in the -ING form, “having.”
In this case:
“We will be having a meeting at 3PM.”
So this sentence means the speaker expresses a plan that will be happening. So at 3PM, at this specific time in the future, this activity will be in progress. We will be having a meeting. So, our condition will be (in the future), “having a meeting at 3PM.” So, we're using this progressive form here, this continuous form to show our status at 3PM. So, we will be having a meeting at 3PM.
If you want to say, “We will have a meeting at 3PM,” great. That's fine also. The difference is that this sounds like the meeting has already started. Maybe, for example, the meeting started at 2:45 and the meeting at 3PM is continuing. So, we're using this progressive form to show that at this time, the meeting will be in progress.
“We will be having a meeting at 3PM.”
So, that's the difference. If you say, “we will have a meeting,” it sounds like maybe the meeting will start at 3PM. “We'll be having a meeting at 3PM” shows, in some cases, that the meeting is progressing, though some people may choose to use them to mean the same thing, like the meeting will start or the meeting will be in progress. So, in most cases, it's pretty easy to understand from context, but if you're not sure, just ask.
So, okay. Let's continue then to the next example sentence for this lesson, the next example conversation, rather.
A. Person A says:
“I haven't heard from Michael. I think he's busy.”
Person B says:
“He can't be that busy. He took a two-hour lunch today.”
So here, we're using a negative. This is “can't,” my negative “can't.” Over here, I talked about how “can't” refers to impossibility, so something that's not possible.
I've also used “that” which we use for emphasis. This would be very, very natural to use in this situation.
“He can't be that busy. He took a two-hour lunch today.”
So, this means a two-hour lunch break. He took a two-hour lunch break today, so it's not possible he's so busy. It's not possible he's that busy. Maybe he just forgot, so he can't be that busy.
So, “can’t” shows us something is not possible. We've used “be” and in this case, we're using an adjective, the adjective “busy” again. “He can't be that busy,” so that means his current status, it's impossible for his current status to be so busy, because I saw him take a two-hour lunch or something similar. So, this is how we might use “can't” in this pattern.
Okay. Let's continue to a different conversation with a different modal verb.
A says:
“What would you be doing if you had the day off today?”
So already, we can see this modal verb “what would” in the question, and actually, this pattern is in the question too.
“What would you be doing if you had the day off today?”
So, we already know this is an unreal situation. “Would” is used to describe unreal situations. So, if you had the day off today, that means I do not have the day off today, I am working today, but person A wants to know, if you had the day off today, if today was a holiday for you, what would you be doing? So tell me your plan. If you imagine, today was not a working day, tell me your plan. What would you be doing? So, in this progressive form, tell me about an activity, an ongoing status.
B says:
“I would be sleeping.”
“I would be sleeping.”
So, the response is also “would” because it's an unreal situation, I would be sleeping. So, this condition is not true. The speaker does not have the day off today, but if they did, “I would be sleeping.”
So, because it's unreal, the whole condition is unreal, we use “would.”
“I would be sleeping.”
Progressive form. This would be my activity.
Okay. Let's move on to the next example.
“You worked 14 hours today?! You [must] be [tired]!”
So here, I've used this “must,” must.
So, we know “must” expresses a high level of certainty. I'm using “tired,” my adjective is “tired,” so the speaker is guessing, wow, you are very likely tired right now. So, I want to express a high level of possibility that you're tired.
So, in this sentence, some of you might ask, like, can I use “could” here like, “you could be tired”? That's probably not so natural because there's, like this big hint in this situation. You worked 14 hours today, so there's a high level of certainty there that the listener is tired. So, if you say you could be tired, it sounds really unnatural because it's like just this neutral possibility. You're not recognizing the hard work of the other person. So, using “could” sounds very unnatural here.
This one as well, “may” or “might” also sounds really unnatural, like, “Oh, you might be tired, but…” So, there are probably a few more cases where you might hear these. You might hear “might” used in this, like if the speaker wants something, but if you really want to show your concern for the person after working a long time, it's good to use something like “must.” So, this is a situation where choosing the correct modal verb will show that you're really listening and like you're caring about the other person in the situation. So, you must be tired shows that you care, like there's a high level of certainty that you care about that person. That high level of certainty shows that. Your modal verb choice shows that.
Okay. Onto the next one:
“Is this GPS accurate? I think we [may] be [going] the wrong way.”
So, this is a kind of polite sentence.
“We [may] be [going] the wrong way.”
So, maybe you're in, like a taxi or you're in a car with your boss or a colleague that you're not very close to, and you say, “Mm, I think we may be going the wrong way.” So that means we're in the car, but you, the speaker, you feel there's a moderate chance we may or we might, if you like, that's fine too, “we may be going.” So this shows our status right now, which is happening now, we are driving, we may be going the wrong way. So “the wrong way” means the wrong direction. Our destination is here, we are over here, we are going the wrong way.
“We may be going the wrong way.”
So, could we say, “I think we are going the wrong way”?
Yes, sure. If you want to make it sound a little more polite or you want to show, again, like, “Oh, I think there's just the chance, you can use this modal verb pattern. I think we may be going the wrong way.
Again you could substitute some others in here:
“I think we might be going…”
Sure, that sounds a little more friendly.
“I think we could be going the wrong way,” just shows neutral possibility. That would make the sentence maybe even softer.
“I think we must be going the wrong way” shows you're very certain about this, so your confidence level is very high.
So, these are all like little choices you can make to show your level of certainty and like to express a level of softness in the conversation.
Okay. Finally:
“Why are you sitting down while we clean the house? You [could] be [helping] us.”
So, this is something maybe like a parent would say to a child. This child is like playing video games on the sofa and the parent says, “Why are you sitting down while we clean the house? You could be helping us.” “You could be helping us.” So this, “you could be helping us” means it's possible right now for you to help us, so you could change your condition to helping. Now, you're sitting, but it's possible for you to help us. You could change your condition to “helping us.”
So, one error that I see a lot is learners who would use something like “must” here, “You must be helping us,” but that does not communicate the same idea in this sentence. So, I know that you want to say something like, please help us or it's your responsibility to help us. You can do that with “should.”
“You should be helping us.”
That expresses a desired state. You're expecting the child to help you. “You should be helping us.” That shows it.
“You could” sounds, like, a lot softer. It's more like you're trying to show the child, like this is your responsibility, you could be doing this, it's possible for you to do this, like please make this decision yourself. That's kind of a little more passive, but I hear a lot of learners use something like “must” here, but please keep in mind that “must” expresses a high level of certainty. “You must be helping us” does not make sense here, because it's showing “you must be” plus some kind of like condition, like this is not something we would use in this situation. Like a high level of certainty of helping, so it doesn't quite make sense in this case.
So please use “could” or “should” here to express like a desired action, “should” to express like that, really, like, more aggressive or stronger like this is something that we expect you to do or we desire you to do. “Could” is a little bit more soft. It's just showing you could do this, there's a possibility here, please do it. So, don't use “must” in a pattern like this.
We use “must be” in a situation like this.
“You must be tired.”
Or like I talked about over here, like, “Oh, he must be busy,” so there's a high level of certainty of a condition, a current condition. So, this one is not like- is not talking about, like the condition itself, but rather like an expected action in the future, so I hope that that makes sense.
But if you want to practice this a little bit more, try making some of your own sentences with these modal verbs in this pattern. Thanks very much for watching this lesson and I will see you again soon. Bye-bye!