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Autor:  José Roberto
E-mail:  josezambon@terra.com.br
Data:  08/FEV/2006 11:51 AM
Assunto:  A bit on the modals

I think the modal verbs are the most fascinating area for the ones who study English scientifically (linguists) or simply want to understan its mechanisms.


The use of the modals is tricky to explain.


 Indeed Pat, everybody says so. And you don't need fluency in Portuguese to explain them because there's no straighforward equivalence on this matter (Romance languages do not have a special system for modality as Teutonic languages have.)


So I avoid direct translation like can=poder because modals like should and must and even will overlap when one translate sentences into Portuguese, and actually when for the student the modals should be introduced functionally (within examples and sentences readily undestood by natives: I'd really want to go but I can't.) rather than structurally (Use can for.... they don't take -s and etc...).   


Can is indeed be able to but could is more remote than can; remote in time, remote in relationship and the same goes to will/would and theoretically for may/might and shall/should. 


Must doesn't have a remote pair because of its undelined meaning "I assert that it is necessary that..." and we can't assert what has passed, it happened or not (so that traditionally had to is taught as a possible 'past' for must.)



When expressing one's own opinion or intention, one should use 'would' rather than 'could'. In your sentence, you were expressing your opinion about the model, so it would sound more natural in english to use 'would' rather than 'could'. However, it is comprehensible either way.


 Always on the grounds you are a native Pat and you will use and react to utterances differently from a non-native I can say that it would depend on her choice, indeed she could have used might/could or would one of these remote modals, but your explanation is perfect! And like you said, it is comprehensible either way. 


According to Lewis (The English Verb):


Could = I assert that it is 'remotely' possible that....


Would= Given the (hypothetical) situation which I perceive at the moment of speaking, the action (state of affairs) described is inevitably true. 



José Roberto

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 English Made in Brazil -- English, Portuguese, & contrastive linguistics
assistantes  –  pat  06/FEV/2006, 3:30 PM
assistantes  –  Solange  06/FEV/2006, 4:30 PM
assistantes  –  Wellington_USA  06/FEV/2006, 5:16 PM
assistantes  –  Breno  06/FEV/2006, 4:57 PM
assistantes  –  Wellington_USA  06/FEV/2006, 5:20 PM
assistantes  –  Daniele  06/FEV/2006, 10:50 PM
assistantes  –  José Roberto  07/FEV/2006, 9:06 AM
assistantes  –  pat  07/FEV/2006, 10:26 AM
assistantes  –  Dan  07/FEV/2006, 12:53 PM
assistantes  –  Daniele  07/FEV/2006, 7:48 PM
assistantes  –  pat  08/FEV/2006, 10:17 AM
 A bit on the modals  –  José Roberto  08/FEV/2006, 11:51 AM
A bit on the modals  –  pat  09/FEV/2006, 10:27 AM

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