Upper Intermediate Level >> Grammar Worksheets >> Students look at sentences that use modal verbs and think about the changes in meaning brought about by the different modal verbs.

Modal Verbs: Changes in Meaning

Upper Intermediate

Are none, one or both of these modal verbs possible for each sentence. How is the sentence's meaning altered if both are possible?

1. I really must/have to leave now, it's getting very late. (both possible, "must" can be a more internal reason (tiredness) whereas "have to" may be external (have an appointment).)

2. We had to search for an hour before we found our hotel. ("had to" for past.)

3. If your boyfriend is treating you so bad, Ellie, you should leave him! ("needn't" means "don't have to", opposite of intended message.)

4. We have already seen this episode, Ken. You shouldn't record it. ("shouldn't" for advice not to do something.)

5. If you want to be good at conversation, you have/need to know how to listen! (basically identical in meaning.)

6. "Should/Must we invite Alice and her boyfriend to dinner tomorrow evening?" (both possible: one asking for guidance/advice, second making it clear the speaker does NOT want Alice to come.)

7. We were able to find a parking space, but it wasn't very near the shopping mall. (cannot use "could" for an affirmative sentence talking about one specific event in the past, only for general ability ("I could swim when I was four.).)

8. "I can't see you tonight," he said to Leanne, "I think we should break up!" (inability/refusal)

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