Modal verbs for making deductions

English language learners are often confused by the many different uses of modal verbs.  Each modal verb can be used for several different reasons, and sometimes we can use more than one modal verb for the same reason.

One important rule to remember about modal verbs in the present is that they are always followed by a base verb.

Modal verbs can be used to make deductions.  A deduction is a guess or a prediction made using the information you know.

We use must when we have evidence and would like to make a strong prediction.

For example, let’s pretend that my friend walks to school every day.  In this situation, because I have some evidence, I can make a strong prediction and say, “She must live close to the school.”
Or here’s another example.  Let’s pretend that my friend, Mary, has been telling me about Tom, a new man that she is dating.  She tells me that she is going to bring him to my party on Saturday night.  When Mary arrives at my party with a man on her arm, I can say, “Oh, you must be Tom.”

In this situation the opposite of must is can’t.  We use can’t when we don’t think that something is possible.  For example, if Peter slept for 12 hours last night, I can say, “Peter can’t be tired.  He slept so much!”  This means that I don’t think it is possible for Peter to be tired because I have some evidence (I know that he slept for 12 hours!).

The modal verbs might, may and could can be used to make a prediction about something that we are a little bit more unsure about.  For example, imagine you lost your glasses.  You’re not sure where they are, so you think of some possibilities.  “They might be in the car”; “They could be in my coat pocket”; or “They may be at work.”  All of these are possibilities, but I don’t have a lot of evidence to support them.

All of the above examples use modal verbs to make present deductions.  We can also use modal verbs to make past deductions, but the form is slightly different.  To speculate about the past, we use modal verb + have + past participle.

The use stays the same (must for strong positive predictions, can’t for strong negative predictions, may/might/could for predictions without much evidence), but now we can make a past prediction.
Let’s look at an example.  Imagine that you are at work and Lisa, one of your colleagues, hasn’t arrived yet.  Your colleagues make some past predictions—“She might have missed the bus this morning”; “She could have overslept.”  But you spoke to Lisa this morning, and you know that she was feeling tired and needed to get a coffee.  You can say, “She must have stopped to get a cup of coffee,” because you have a little more evidence than everyone else.

Another example can be seen in the image below:

modals for deductions

Modal verbs for deduction can also be used in the continuous form, but this use is less common.  We can use modal verb + be + verb+ing to make a present prediction, and modal verb + have + been + verb+ing to make a past prediction.

For example, let’s pretend that I see my friend and she is sweating.  I can make a past prediction that she might have been exercising at the local gym before I saw her.  Or a present prediction that she must be rushing to somewhere important at the moment!

Using modal verbs for deductions is very useful.

Teacher Diane skypeThis post was written by Teacher Diane.  Diane is an English teacher from New York with over four years of experience teaching English to students from all over the world.  She is the founder of , a website that provides personalized English lessons on Skype.  You can watch her video tutorials at

A long list of English expressions and idioms!

The other day someone asked me how many English expressions and idioms we had featured on the World of Words since it started.

With several hundred articles each featuring at least five new English expressions or idioms, there must be well over a thousand English words, expressions and idioms explained on this site.

Here’s a list of some of the interesting vocabulary tagged in the site for you to explore. Click the words to see them in context in an article.

Urban Dictionary: The English Words of Young People

Growing up in London has made me realise that the correct English language is a bit of a myth. The only person I remember ever speaking the correct English language in my entire life was my Secondary School Head Teacher. To be fair she was about 70 something year old, it would have been very weird if she came out and greeted us with “Yo students!”

In the olden days, around the time of Henry VIII and Queen Victoria, I’m sure people didn’t greet each other with “What’s popping?” (Meaning, “Hello, how are you?”). You were more likely to hear greetings such as “How do you do?”
Being a young adult myself, I have heard many different ways of saying one phrase, sentence or word which all mean the same thing.

Wa Gwan
What’s Up

Good Bye
See you later
I’m out of here
I’m bouncing
How are you?
What’s good?
How’s it going?
What up?
Thank you

As you can see, the English language has been ‘urbanised’ by young people nowadays and surprisingly, as they get older, they tend to stick with the same words. 5o’clock rush hour on the London Underground, you get the random 30-35 year olds with their expensive looking suits and briefcases, speaking with their work colleague and coming out with sentences such as:

“Work was long today, can’t wait to bounce home” meaning “Work was long today, can’t wait to get home”


“Can’t wait for the weekend, I’m going to get wasted” meaning “Can’t wait for the weekend, I’m going to get drunk”

As generations go by, the correct English language will start to fade away. Although children are taught the right English vocabulary and grammar in school, once you leave school, it’s a whole new English language you hear, learn and speak. Eventually, we are going to need language translations to help us understand one another! But as they say English is a funny language and for decades this language has evolved and the next generation could bring a new chapter to this interesting story.

Author Bio: Nancy Carranza, 24 year old university graduate with an artistic background. She works in retail and for Translation Services 24 ltd.

A Beginner’s Guide to Cockney Rhyming Slang

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

What is Cockney rhyming slang?

If you’ve ever been to London and witnessed people speaking a strange kind of English that you didn’t understand, you were probably hearing Cockney rhyming slang. CRS replaces one word with a pair of words that rhyme with it. For example, ‘trouble and strife’ means ‘wife’ in Cockney rhyming slang, so you might hear someone saying:

Where’s my trouble and strife?

What he means is, ‘Where’s my wife?’ And to make matters worse, sometimes only one word from the pair is used, so somebody might just say:

Where’s my trouble?

Quite a long way from the original sentence, isn’t it?

Where does Cockney rhyming slang come from?

Cockney rhyming slang, which is spoken by Cockneys, originated in the mid-nineteenth century in the East End of London. A Cockney is someone who was born within earshot of Bow Bells (the bells of a particular church in East London), but now it really just means any Londoner with a specific kind of accent.

No one knows how or why Cockney rhyming slang developed. Some say it was spoken by criminals to confuse the police, while others think it was used by market traders to talk to each other without their customers knowing what they were saying. Whatever the case, it probably also served a double purpose of maintaining a sense of community.

One of the interesting things about Cockney rhyming slang is how it changes over the years to reflect popular culture. In the 1980s, ‘flares’ (a type of trouser that gets wider at the bottom) were referred to as ‘Lionel Blairs’ after the famous actor. Nowadays, they’re known as ‘Tony Blairs’ after the ex-Prime Minister:

Anyone seen my Tony Blairs?

Another example is that ‘Scooby Doo’ suddenly started to mean ‘clue’ with the arrival of the mystery-solving cartoon dog on TV:

I haven’t got a Scooby!

Films and music

If you’re a fan of British films and music, chances are you’ve come across Cockney rhyming slang at some point before. In the film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Barfly Jack makes heavy use of it when telling a story about someone being set on fire. Amusingly, the scene has been subtitled in ‘normal’ English, with additional flashbacks to help the viewer understand. And to be honest these extra measures are completely necessary to know what’s going on – even for a native speaker!

In the 1960s, the influential British rock band The Kinks recorded a song called ‘Harry Rag’, which refers to the Cockney rhyming slang term for cigarette, ‘Harry Wragg’, or fag:

I’ll do anything just to get a Harry Wragg

Further examples

I’ll finish with some other popular examples of Cockney rhyming slang for you. Can you guess what these mean? (Answers are at the bottom of the page.)

Ouch! He hit me in the north and south!

That man’s got huge plates of meat

I don’t like it when you tell porkies (porky pies)

Let’s have a butcher’s (butcher’s hook)

I’ll call him on the dog and bone

I’m just going up the apples and pears

It’s all gone Pete Tong

Hi me old china! (china plate)

Matt Lindley is an English teacher and blogger living in East London. He blogs for HotelClub, a website where you can find great deals on London hotels and more.

Answers: mouth, feet, lies, look, phone, stairs, wrong, mate

Languages of the internet – Infographic

Will English soon die out as the most dominant language on the Internet and be replaced by Chinese language? According to data gathered by Today translations English still retains the number one spot among Internet users. However, China has the highest population of any single country in the world and Internet usage has seen a rapid growth in this country. With this in mind, English might be losing its ground. Spanish makes it into the top three and comes as second most popular language on Facebook. Still, when it comes to social media English language is most popular, and used by 52% of the internet population.

One of the positive effects of globalisation is that endangered languages (for example Oceanic language from Papua New Guinea has only 600 surviving speakers) are more likely to survive thanks to social media. As Richard Gray from The Sunday Telegraph argues, unique local languages are threatened by many factors including cultural changes and government repressions. Luckily, technology helps grow the audience via digital channels, including YouTube, Twitter and the above mentioned Facebook.

Languages of the Internet - infographic

This article is a guest post by one of the most recognised translation service companies in London, Today Translations.

English Proverbs

Today’s article is a guest post by Ivana.

A proverb is a simple saying popularly known and repeated throughout time, which conveys a truth, a thought or a reflection, often metaphorically, based on the practical experience of humanity. A proverb describing a basic rule of behavior is known as a maxim.

Proverbs are mainly used by adults, since they have more experience in life –and in proverbs- than children. Many times, they use them to give their opinion on a certain matter without sounding offensive. In this way, proverbs are used like quotes by popular people.

When seeking to learn English in London students enjoy discovering popular English proverbs, among which, we find:

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” used to express that it is better to have something for certain than the mere possibility of getting something better.

The early bird catches the worm” means that if you wake up and get to work early, things will turn out good for you.

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today” This one is quite straightforward, no metaphors involved. It basically means that you shouldn’t procrastinate.

To put all eggs in one basket” this proverb means to make everything dependent on only one thing, put all your resources in one place, etc. In generally, people recommend “not to put all eggs in one basket”, although in gambling, many people have won a lot of money with this strategy.

When it comes to translating proverbs, the task is quite a challenging one: many times, you can’t translate literally, as either the idea doesn’t convey the same thing in the target language (there might be cultural nuances involved) or there is already a widely spread proverb which literally means something very different, but figuratively, the same idea is expressed. In the following equivalences are taught:

(English to Spanish)

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”: “Mejor pájaro en mano que cien volando” (lit. “a bird in the hand is better than a hundred of them flying”).
Quite similar, right? Sometimes the words are literally something very different:

The early bird catches the worm”: “A quien madruga, Dios lo ayuda” (lit. “Him, who gets up early, is helped by God”)

Proverbs in different languages are very fun to learn, especially because they can vary widely depending on where they are said.

Ivana represents and like to publish articles related to languages, travel and business . LanguageTrainers offers an effective way to learn English in London or any other language in any city.

39 advanced English vocabulary quizzes to test yourself with

For those of you who are new to the World of Words and missed out on the advanced vocabulary quizzes I posted a couple of years, here is a list of them in order. Taking the quizzes is simple, click the answer you think is right then click ‘next’. When you get to the end of the quiz, you will see the answers and links to all the vocabulary in context.

Good luck with the quizzes!

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 1

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 2

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 3

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 4

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 5

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 6

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 7

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 8

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 9

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 10

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 11

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 12

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 13

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 14

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 15

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 16

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 17

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 18

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 19

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 20

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 21

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 22

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 23

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 24

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 25

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 26

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 27

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 28

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 29

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 30

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 31

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 32

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 33

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 34

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 35

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 36

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 37

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 38

Advanced English Vocabulary Quiz 39

Using the London Underground

I was discussing getting around London with some of my students last week and they all said they found it a little difficult when they first came here. To help them, I put together a little lesson on how to use the London Underground and I decided to share it.

If you are planning on visiting London or just interested in practising vocabulary to use on the subway, you can find it in the Free English Resources section of my website. I hope you find it useful.

Today’s image is by Christa Richert.