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

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.

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.

English vocabulary for mobile phones / cell phones

Mobile phones (cell phones in the US) are an important part of our lives nowadays. There is a lot of specialist vocabulary related to mobile phones and it can be useful to know if you want to get a mobile phone number in an English-speaking country. I recently got a new mobile phone, so let me tell you about it. All the new vocabulary is in black. Try and guess what it means (the answers are at the bottom).

Because I’ve been away from the UK for so long, I didn’t have an active mobile phone number in this country so I decided to go out and get one this weekend. I went to the phone shop and the assistant showed me a range of handsets. Some of them were free when you signed up to certain service plans. Others you needed to pay for.

I already have a handset and I’m not sure which service provider has good coverage in my area so I chose a pre-paid service so I could see how well it worked before I signed up. A monthly contract is a waste of money is there is poor reception at my house.

I put the SIM card in my phone and turned it on. The assistant helped me add some credit and I was able to call and send text messages right away. Later in the day, I set up mobile Internet so I could check my e-mails and tweets.

I am quite happy with the service so far, so next month I might sign up for a monthly contract. It’s very convenient to pay the bill by direct debit and I won’t need to keep getting top-up vouchers.

Many service providers give away really good phones when you use their service so I might get myself an iPhone. A smartphone would be really useful for me and I could even blog using it!

  • handset – mobile phone hardware
  • service plan – a monthly contract that charges calls at a set rate and sometimes gives you a certain amount of free calls.
  • service provider – a company that provides the connection for your mobile phone
  • coverage – the area where your mobile phone can be used
  • pre-paid – a service you pay for before you use it
  • reception – signal strength
  • text message – a message of up to 160 characters sent from a mobile phone (also called SMS)
  • SIM card – the small plastic card that enables your phone to connect to the service provider
  • credit – money to make calls on a pre-paid phone service
  • mobile Internet – Internet on a mobile phone
  • monthly contract – the contract you sign when you use a service plan
  • direct debit – when money is automatically taken out of your bank account
  • a top-up voucher – a ticket to add credit to your mobile phone
  • smartphone – a mobile phone with many extra functions

Today’s image is by Michal Ufniak.

Vote for the World of Words

The kind people over at the Lexiophiles blog have nominated Wil’s World of Words for their Top 100 Language Blogs award. I’m really pleased about this because I am a big fan of the Lexiophiles blog so this nomination really means a lot to me.

If you would like to support Wil’s World of Words, please vote here. All you need to do is click the ‘vote’ icon next to ‘Wil’s World of Words’. It only takes five seconds. Thanks in advance for your help.

Free English lessons!

You might have noticed the advert for my online English lessons at the side of the page. Well, guess what? I’m giving away FREE 15-minute mini-classes over the next few weeks so why not give one a try?

You don’t need to sign up for anything or give any credit card details. All you need is a stable Internet connection and a working copy of Skype installed on your computer.

Just use the contact form below to tell me when you would like to take a class and we can organise your FREE mini-class.

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Study English in Malaysia

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m on a trip to Malaysia at the moment. I speak a little Malay, enough to hold a simple conversation, but I’m always amazed at the level of English spoken there. In major cities in Malaysia, you will hear people speaking English fluently wherever you go.

It seems that the national school system teaches English really well and most students don’t need to take extra supplementary classes after school. Despite this, there are some great English language schools. The most famous are probably those run by the British Council, but there are lots of other options, too.

Malaysia is similar to Singapore in that English is widely-spoken in everyday life. This is what makes it it such a great place to learn English. Even after class is over, you can practise speaking in shops, restaurants or bars.

There’s loads to see and do in Malaysia. Beach-lovers will enjoy Langkawi. People interested in history can visit the beautiful port of Melaka. The famous Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur are not to be missed, too.

The thing I like most about Malaysia, though, is the food! Malaysian cooking is amazing. It’s diverse, with influences from the Chinese, Indian and Malay communities. It’s delicious (Malaysians pride themselves on their food culture). It’s cheap, too.

In general, living in Malaysia isn’t expensive. If you are in Kuala Lumpur, the subway is a good, cheap way to get around. Accommodation is not expensive either with budget hotels starting at about US$30 per night.

Flights to Malaysia, too. AirAsia, a budget airline based in Malaysia has some great deals for both short-haul and long-haul flights.

The only negative think I can think of about learning English in Malaysia is that the food might be too good! Be prepared to come home weighing more than when you left!

Today’s image is by Hoosablink.