2.5 Modality

Modality is concerned with the writer’s attitude towards what he or she is asserting about the state of the world…

…in so far as they believe it to be true or false: how certain they are of what they are saying, whether it is definite knowledge or a matter of speculation, whether it is possibly, probably or definitely true; a deduction, a prediction, or a supposition.

1. Modal Verbs:


  • would
  • can
  • will
  • could
  • should
  • must
  • might
  • may
  • shall 


e.g. “I might play football.” or “The homework should be enjoyable as well as educational.” or “There should be a set of traffic-lights around the next corner.”

(Modal verbs can also express degrees of obligation and whether or not something is necessary, desirable, permitted or forbidden: “You should go to the cinema.” or “You can go to the cinema.” or “You might go to the cinema.”

2. Verb Phrases:


  • ought to
  • used to
  • was to
  • are/is to
  • had better
  • have to
  • have got to
  • would rather
  • would just as soon
  • would sooner
  • be supposed to
  • be about to
  • be bound to
  • be certain to
  • be likely to
  • be due to
  • be meant to
  • be obliged to
  • be sure to


3. Other Common verbs which can express modality:


  • appear
  • believe
  • expect
  • feel
  • gather
  • guess
  • know
  • look
  • promise
  • reckon
  • seem
  • sound
  • suppose
  • tend
  • think


4. Modal Adverbs:

  • apparently
  • certainly
  • evidently
  • inevitably
  • necessarily
  • possibly
  • probably


5. Adverbials of Modality

  • for definite
  • for sure
  • for certain
  • of course
  • to be honest
  • in truth


6. Subordinate clauses


  • as far as I recall
  • in so far as I can be certain
  • when I think back
  • if it can be credited
  • though it should be taken with a pinch of salt
  • whether it is the case or not
  • etc.


…where an author signals modality we get a sharp and definite insight into his or her attitude to the topic under discussion; conversely, you can carefully qualify anything you assert through the use of modal verbs, modal adverbs, adverbs of modality and through the use of subordinate clauses which qualify the main clause of the sentence.

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