We use modal verbs of probability when we speculate, assume or guess at facts. Modals used are: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would and must.

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Other verbs used as modal verbs are; have to, want to and need to. We use Modals of Probability when we refer to a fact in the past, present and future. Generally, Modals of probability are taught at the intermediate level of English. Based on a students English level when studying English for a second time, Modals of probability might be taught at lower levels of English. This all depends on a students ability to understand the tense system in its entirety with confidence. The use of the tense system, as well as adverbs play a major role in the use of Modal verbs of probability.

Compare Modal Verbs to Adverbs.

Modal Verbs of probability used with the verb “Be” and “Get” are used to refer to the present and future. For this teacher training, I will focus on the past use of Modals of probability. There a few important keys to fully understand Modals of probability in the past.

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Those keys are the usage of the “Present perfect” and “Adverbs” as well as “Participle 2” or the third form of a “Verb”. An example of a past fact might be “She has been to work recently”. This a “fact” in the past without a specific time reference. Of course, “Present Perfect” is used a number of ways with one clear distinction from “Past Simple” and “Past Continuous”.

Generally, when we use “Present Perfect” exact time references are not used or are not important. Understanding the “Present Perfect” is a must to fully understand “Modals of Probability” in the past. This is one important element. However, with a combination of “Modals” and “Present Perfect”, we can refer to specific time in the past as speculation.

In other words, we sometimes use “Modals of Probability” with “Present Perfect” to refer to a possible fact in the past without being absolutely positive the event took place. In other words, we “Speculate, Assume or Guess” at what occurred in the past.

Examples might be; May have “May’ve”, Might have “Might’ve”, Could have “Could’ve”. These are all examples of an event in the past that we are not absolutely sure about. “May”, “might” and “could” in the following examples are fully interchangeable. “She might have worked yesterday, I am not sure”. She may have worked yesterday, I am not sure”. She could have worked yesterday, I am not sure”. In all three examples, these three Modal verbs have the same meaning.

Bridging English Grammar.

One simple method that can be used to teach this grammar is “Bridging”. This is a method I have used for years while teaching English to Ukrainian students in Nikolaev. “Bridging” is when we teach a higher level grammar element using a comparison in grammar at a lower level. We can also use it to compare and instruct grammar at the same level of English. The main idea here is to compare known and understood grammar to something new.

This is where the usage of “Adverbs” takes an important role in teaching methodology. “Adverbs of Probability” are often used the same way as “Modals of Probability”. For instance, here is a question and answer comparing both parts of grammar.

Question; “Was Sally at work yesterday?” Answer; “Maybe, she was at work, I don’t know” a second response could be “She could have been at work, I don’t know”. In the first response I used an “Adverb of Probability” to express a possibility. In the second example, I used a “Modal verb with present perfect” to express the same opinion. Neither are facts. The statements made are simply “Speculation or guess” based on my thoughts and opinion. My answers are speculative without being absolutely sure.

Remember that the use of “Adverbs” play an important role in the English language. Don’t be afraid to introduce “Adverbs” as often as possible at the earliest stages of classroom instruction.

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