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Lesson 2: Building Better Communities

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0


Modal Auxiliaries 

In this lesson you will revise the rules of using the modal auxiliaries.

The modal auxiliaries are can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might and must. They are used to express

  • ability
  • probability
  • permission
  • obligation
  • advice
  • habits

Other things to remember:

  • They don’t have -s in the third person singular form.
  • They don’t have the -ing form.
  • After a modal auxiliary there is no to in front of the main verb.
  • You can make questions with them.
  • You can’t have just a modal auxiliary in the predicate except in short Yes/No answers and tag questions.

Moreover, you can’t use modal auxiliaries in all the tenses, so keep these in mind:

  • be able to
  • be allowed to
  • have to

Don’t forget these either:

  • be unable to
  • know how to
  • supposed to
  • manage to
  • need to
  • ought to

Can and could

Can and could are used to express ability, possibility, impossibility, opportunity and permission.

Eric can speak some Japanese.
Going to school can be very expensive in many countries.
Sarah could do cartwheels when she was a child.
Everyone knew he couldn’t sing in tune.
You can leave at any time.
This can’t be happening!
Dave can’t dance but he could take some lessons.
You can save a lot of money if you book the tickets in advance.

Use can when offering to do something

Can I help you?
Can I take yo
u somewhere?

Use could in polite requests and inquiries

Could you close the door behind you?
Could I lea
ve a message for Dr. Taylor please?

When you ask for permission, could is more polite and formal than can

Could I ask you a question?
Could w
e open our presents now?

Could is the past tense of can but can/could + present perfect infinitive (= have + past participle) is also possible. It is used to express speculation, inability, criticism and how someone was capable of doing something but didn’t do it.

That can't have happened!
Can your cousin have forgotten about the party?
He could have told us about that.
Cathy could have heard what Jim said about the party.
Alex couldn’t have managed without your help.
William could have continued the family business but he had always wanted to be a pilot.


May and might

May and might are used to denote possibility, probability and permission. They are also used in suggestions and wishes. The two words are often interchangeable although, for some, might can express less likelihood than may.

Steven may buy a new car.
Steven might buy a new car.
I haven’t seen Rachel this week – she might be on holiday.
May we use your car to transport the cakes?
You may leave as soon as you are done with the task.
Stephanie might not like the idea of taking another loan.
May you live long and prosper.
You might want to try coaching next season.
If I didn’t have to work at the weekends, I might have a stall at the farmers’ market.

If may not is used in a refusal, it is emphatic.

You may not go out tonight.
It’s a school night so you may not stay up till midnight.

May well is used to indicate a strong possibility

Finland may well win a medal or two this weekend.
It may well start snowing this evening.

Use may/might + present perfect infinitive (= have + past participle) when talking about the past. If the outcome or the truth of the event or situation is not known yet, use either

Tracy may/might have misunderstood you.
I’m afraid I might have offended some people with my stupid jokes last night.

If the event or situation did not occur, use might + have + past participle

The situation might have been less awkward if you had stopped telling jokes when people stopped laughing.

When talking about probability, be likely to in often used in questions instead of may/might

Is she likely to join us for dinner?
Are they likely to help us move?


Must and have to

Must usually denotes some type of obligation, certainty or conclusion

I must take part in the exam.
Jake is not at home. He must be in the exam.
We must do something about that broken window immediately.
They must have been drunk because their speech was slurred.
It must be nice to live in the Bahamas during the winter months.

Have to can replace must when talking about some obligation

Jake and Rebecca have to take the exam today or wait until next semester.
Chris has to sing at the concert.
I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Use do when making questions or negatives with have to

Do you have to play the music so loud?
Does your cat have to bite my hair?
Why do you have to leave so soon?
You don’t have to help with the dishes if you stay.

You can also use have got to instead of have to

We have got to get going or we’ll miss our flight.
Walter has got to learn to take it easy or he will get sick.

What about the negatives?

Must not means that something is not allowed. There is a strong obligation NOT to do something.

You must not smoke in the lavatory.
This issue is confidential. You must not discuss it with outsiders.

When there is no necessity or obligation, use do + have to or haven’t got to

You don’t have to pay for my meal.
Raymond doesn’t have to wake up so early but he likes to see the sunrise.
Jack and Jill didn’t have to go up the hill, but they wanted some exercise.
Haven’t you got to get those invitations sent today?


Shall/should and will/would

Shall/should and will/would are used to denote the future tense and the conditional mood, but they have other uses as well.

Shall is used

  • in the first person singular and plural to denote the future tense (although will is more common nowadays)

We shall be there to say good-bye.
I shall be late.

  • in the future tense especially to express determination

We shall overcome!
You shall learn how to use a lathe.

  • to make suggestions

Shall I open the window?
Shall we begin the meeting?

  • in threats, promises and requirements

You shall hear from me yet!
We shall deal with that matter in due time.
All members of the board who are related to any applicant shall abstain from voting.

Will is used

  • to denote the future tense, also in the first person singular and plural

We will move to Los Angeles next year.
I will go there a month in advance.

  • to express willingness, agreement, volunteering or some threat or decision

Cheryl will marry Jeff.
Jeff says he will move to Boston if Cheryl really wants them to.
Your sister will help you pack.
We will call the police.
I will have the soup of the day.
(in a restaurant)

  • in polite requests, inquiries and invitations

Will you come to my party?
Will you marry me?
Will you help me study if I go back to school?

  • to talk about some habit or make predictions

They say boys will be boys
My puppy will just sniff around when I take him outside.

Should is used

  • to express some need, recommendation, obligation, duty, correctness or advice

Christina should go to see a doctor. (= Christina ought to go to see a doctor.)
Mike should visit Edinburgh Castle while he is in town.
Kevin should be at work by seven.
You shouldn’t wear outdoor shoes indoors.
You all know you shouldn’t smoke.

  • to express expectation or probability

Wendy should have been here by now.
If Susan should call, tell her I will call her back later. (used in the if clause)
Our bus should arrive soon.

  • in the first person singular and plural in the conditionals (rather outdated)

I should love to come.
I should have had the report ready if I had known that the boss was coming.

Would is used

  • in the main clause of both the first. and the second conditional (review the use of tenses in the if clauses)

Sue would join our group if she had the time.
Daniel would have called you immediately if he had heard the news.

  • to express past tense in reported speech when will is used in the present tense in direct speech

"Will I see you tomorrow?"
Jill asked me if she would see me the next day.

  • to express (dis)agreement, willingness and refusal

Stan wouldn't listen to my reasoning.
Beth wouldn’t mind helping you.
Jim would help you, too.

  • in polite requests (would is more polite than will)

Would you pick up your clothes and put them in the laundry basket, please?
Would you take Nancy to the airport for me?

  • to express what someone used to do or what happened regularly

On Sundays the whole family would go to church together.
Milk would be delivered door to door in glass bottles in the morning.

A summary in Finnish:
Modal Auxiliaries (pdf)


A milk float. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Brian Snelson, CC BY 2.0


Exercise 2.1 Modal Auxiliaries – Fill in

Fill in the correct modal auxiliary verb.

Catherine  her favorite TV series but the TV , because she  any picture. It  nice to get the TV set repaired again. The repairman  today, but she  him she was too busy. She  her meeting though, because the repairman  to look at her TV until Wednesday. Now Catherine  without her series and that  for her.


 Vocabulary – Listen and practice


Lesson 2: Vocabulary
community public service infrastructure
community service authorities bureaucracy
involvement civil servant commute
participation ordinance interaction
participant mandatory social custom
participate committee  



  Exercise 2.2 Listening comprehension

Listen to the dialogue and fill in the missing parts.

Tehtävä arvioidaan S/K.



Jim: Nancy, how would you describe your community?

Nancy: It is an interesting place to live  and the people who live there now.

Jim: Do you like it?

Nancy: Yes, I do. I like the iconic businesses and historical buildings. . The place where I lived before this one was quite boring. People didn’t really care about the area.

Jim: ?

Nancy: We like to call it  on the edge of a big city. . You’d like it, too!

Jim: That sounds very interesting. .

Nancy: Why don’t you come and see it next summer? You could bring your family with you.

Jim. Are there going to be any local events I shouldn’t miss?

Nancy: The summer festival is a fun event. . Maybe you would like to participate in a pub crawl one night – or would you prefer a wellness crawl?

Jim. But I’ll talk to my wife and we will let you know.

Nancy: Great! You know we would have a great time together.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / David Shankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0


Exercise 2.3 Listening comprehension – Better communities

Watch the videos listed below and describe the content of each one in about 50 words.

Tehtävä arvioidaan arvosanalla 4-10.

Communities for a Better Environment: East Oakland
https://youtu.be/v4oEOO4KLnY (~ 6 min)

WHAKATANE Community Garden New Zealand
https://youtu.be/GvbaTYgXPcE (~ 5 min)

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland – Better Together 2013
(~ 2 min)


Submit your text below:


Exercise 2.4 An ideal place to live

Listen to the questions below first and then make a 5-minute recording where you describe your ideal place to live. Make sure that you not only answer all of the questions but also speak about other issues that are important to you. However, make sure that the focus is on the services and facilities the place would have. You do not have to answer the questions in the given order. Use modal auxiliaries in your presentation as much as appropriate.

In addition, it would be great if you could submit a map (a drawing or a link to one) of the place.

Tehtävä arvioidaan arvosanalla 4-10.

Torquay. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Adrian Pingstone, CC BY-SA 3.0


What would be the most important services to have in an ideal place to live?

Would it have its own police station and fire department?

What about a post office?

How many schools would it have? What level?

Would there be public transportation?

How would you provide water, sanitation and recycling services?

Would it have a hospital or a health center?

What about social services?

What types of stores would there be?

What kind of housing would there be?

Would people own their homes or rent?

What type of energy sources would you prefer?

What about factories, where would you place them?

What facilities would you offer for recreation?


Submit your audio file here (max 3 Mb):

Submit your drawing or the link to it below:

Drawing as a file (max. 3 Mb):

or as a link:

Otavan Opisto / Heli Viitanen, Tarja Männikkö, Arto Silén



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