Modals of Possibility and Certainty: Could, Might, May, Must

When indicating possibility in present or future, we can use ‘could’, ‘might’ or ‘may’ with first form of verb.

For example:

  1. Neil may come home late tonight.
  2. Neil might come home late tonight.
  3. Neil could come home late tonight.

All these three sentences indicate possibility of Neil coming home late.

Further examples with base form ‘be’:

  1. Ally may be at the central library.
  2. Ally might be at the central library.
  3. Ally could be at the central library.

Note the difference between ‘maybe’ and ‘may be’.

First of all, ‘maybe’ is an adverb, whereas ‘may be’ is a modal.

Secondly, ‘maybe’ usually comes in the beginning of a sentence, while ‘may be’ always comes after the main subject in the sentence.

For example:

  1. Maybe Neil will come home late tonight.
  2. He was sick; maybe this is why he did not attend the conference.

Use of ‘must’: Must is not only used to express obligation but also used to indicate certainty. To illustrate:

Neil must be coming home late tonight.

This means we are almost sure that Neil will be late.


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