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Would You Like to Learn About Modal Auxiliaries?

2017-05-19

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  • Imagine you are watching an action movie, such as Mission: Impossible. You hear the following exchange:
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  • "Would you like to watch a movie?"
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  • "Oh. No, thank you."
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  • "Would you consider the cinema of the Caribbean?"
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  • You might have noticed that one of the speakers uses the word would not once, but two times.
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  • Have you ever wondered about the word would?
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  • Would you like to know more about how native English speakers use it to show different meanings?
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  • Today on Everyday Grammar, we will explore a difficult area in English grammar: modal auxiliaries.
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  • By the end of this report, you will understand how modal auxiliaries are used in American English.
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  • You will also learn about three uses of the word would.
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  • Language experts say English has two main groups of words: form classes and structure classes.
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  • Form classes are words such as nouns, adjectives, and verbs that give basic meaning.
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  • The form classes are open; in other words, they often change as speakers use new or different words.
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  • The term structure classes means a small group of words that explain the grammatical relationships of words from the form classes.
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  • Structure class words are generally closed.
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  • In other words, structure class words, such as prepositions and, you guessed it, modal auxiliaries, usually do not change.
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  • This definition comes from Martha Kolln, an expert on English grammar.
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  • She notes that native English speakers do not often think about structure class words, despite their importance.
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  • Mastering structure class words - such as modal auxiliaries – is one of the difficult parts about learning English.
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  • We will not test you on the differences between structure and form classes.
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  • We just want you to know that there are the two main classes of words, and that knowing words from both classes is important.
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  • Now, let's take a look at one difficult word from the structure class: the modal auxiliary would.
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  • Modal auxiliaries change the meaning of the verb next to them.
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  • They show a speaker's opinion. They can express a possibility or necessity.
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  • Modals such as would have different meanings depending on their context.
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  • We have discussed modals in other Everyday Grammar programs, which you can find on our website, voalearningenglish.com.
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  • One common meaning of would is to show a wish about a present condition or a future event.
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  • Consider the statement, "I wish it would stop snowing."
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  • Here, the speaker expresses a wish about the weather.
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  • The speaker means that it is currently snowing; would expresses the speaker's wish that the weather change.
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  • The meaning of this statement is almost the same as "I hope it stops snowing."
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  • A second common meaning of would is to express a past or unrealized possibility.
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  • This past or unrealized possibility did not come true.
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  • Consider the sentence, "I would have helped you, but I could not get off from work."
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  • In this statement, the speaker shows regret about not being able to help.
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  • The speaker is saying that he might have been able to help, if he was not required to work.
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  • Here is an example from American popular culture. Consider these lines from the 1960 film Elmer Gantry.
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  • "Jesus would have made the best little All-American quarterback in the history of football.
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  • Jesus was a real fighter - the best little scrapper, pound for pound, you ever saw.
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  • And why, gentlemen? Love, gentlemen. Jesus had love in both fists! "
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  • In this example, the speaker is talking about a past or unrealized possibility.
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  • He never played American football.
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  • In fact, he lived long before American football was invented.
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  • Speakers do not always use would to show a past possibility.
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  • They might use would to show an unrealized possibility in the present tense.
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  • Consider this example:
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  • "I would help you if I could."
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  • Here the speaker is showing that she is unable to help.
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  • Whether the speaker is being truthful about her ability to help is a different question!
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  • One of the most common meanings of the word would is this: to make a polite request.
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  • This structure is useful in almost any situation – at work, school, a restaurant, and so on.
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  • Imagine you are at school and you cannot understand a question in mathematics class. You could ask a student:
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  • "Would you help me with this math problem?"
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  • Using would in this way is considered polite in American culture.
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  • You could ask the same question, or give a direct order, by saying "Will you help me with this?" or "Help me with this."
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  • Although such sentences are grammatically correct, they are not considered polite in American culture.
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  • Think back to the exchange you heard at the beginning of this report:
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  • "Would you like to watch a movie?"
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  • "Oh. No, thank you."
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  • "Would you consider the cinema of the Caribbean?"
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  • We have examined three basic meanings of the word would today.
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  • Can you tell which way the speaker used the word would?
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  • Do you think would has one or two meanings in the audio?
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  • Write us your answers in the Comments Section of our website, voalearningenglish.com
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  • The word would has many other meanings.
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  • The next time you are watching an American film or listening to American music, try to study how speakers use would.
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  • Are they using it to express one of the meanings we described today, or do they mean something else?
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  • Understanding modal auxiliaries is a difficult, but necessary skill if you would like to improve your knowledge of American English.
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  • I'm John Russell.
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  • And I'm Dorothy Gundy.
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