Verb Types: Modal Verbs-Past*

Verb Types: Modal Verbs-Past

April 4, 2019

Native English Instructor

Written by Douglas Shaw

Modal verbs for past

We use these modals because they show that we are not completely certain of what might have taken place. We are speculating about past events – (guessing what happened).



We use “must” when we have a stronger opinion about what happened.

To use these modals we always use “have” with the main verb in the past tense (participle) form.

PresentPast (+”have” & “been”)
should beshould have been
could becould have been
will bewould be
may bemay have been
might bemight have been
would bewould have been

Past modals: The easiest – usually require a simple word change.

e.g. – Present ability

  • I can drive a car.

e.g. – Past ability

  • I could swim when I was five years old.

e.g. – Present obligation

  • I have to go to Hong Kong for the conference.

e.g. – Past obligation

  • I had to go to Japan last year for the conference.

e.g. – Future intention

  • I will pay the cable bill tomorrow.

e.g. – Future reported from the past

  • Irina said she would pay tomorrow.

Past modals with “have”.

The modals listed in the chart above will always be formed by using “have” with the past participle form of the main verb.

e.g. – I feel an obligation to go – later

  • I should go to the funeral.

e.g. – I didn’t go. Now I have regrets

  • I should have gone to the conference.

e.g. – It’s a future possibility

  • Jeff might marry Karen.

e.g. – Jeff may be on his way there now

  • Jeff might have gone to the jewelry shop.

e.g. – Most likely didn’t

  • Jeff could have taken Karen to the airport.

e.g. – He didn’t, he had an excuse

  • Jeff would have taken Karen to the wedding chapel.

e.g. – Past fact

  • Jeff didn’t come to work yesterday.

e.g. – Past obligation

  • Jeff had to take care of his mother.

e.g. – Conjecture about the past

  • Jeff’s mother must have been sick.

Definition: Conjecture

Conjecture – an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information.

Series Navigation<< Verb Types: Modal Verbs-Willingness*Verb Types: Modal Verbs-Negative* >>