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Modal verbs – speculation & deduction

Level: B2
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One of the functions of modal verbs is to express speculation. Depending on the degree of probability of our deduction, we use different verbs. Therefore:

  • the verb must is an almost absolute certainty:

The phone’s ringing. It must be Paul.

  • its opposite is can’t and couldn’t, meaning that a situation does not happen:

The phone’s ringing. It must be Paul.
He’s still at work.

  • the verbs may/might/could are used to express possibilities, but could is a little weaker in its expression:

The phone’s ringing. It may/ might/ could be Paul.

probability example
0 % He doesn’t know. (Simple Present)
very unbelievable He can’t know. (can’t/couldn’t)
50 % probability He could know. (could)
quite likely He may know. (may/ might)
very likely He must know. (must)
100 % probability He knows. (Simple Present)
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