MODAL VERBS: WILL/WOULD – SHALL/SHOULD

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These are the last two couples of Modal or Anamalous Verbs, the previous can be found here and here.

WILL/WOULD

are always followed by the infinitive of the main verb without the “To” like so:

  • I will go home now                                                  
  • I would like to go home now

They express the idea of WANTING something with emphasis, a REFUSAL, an OFFER or INVITATION.

The negative form can be:

  • I will not (I won’t), or                                                    
  • I would not (I wouldn’t)

USES:

a) Will can only be used in the present tense:

  • He will have his own way                                     
  • He won’t talk

b) Would can only be used in the past tense or conditional:

  • The engine wouldn’t start.

TO WANT will then be used in all the other tenses that the above mentioned Modal Verbs cannot be applied to. As for instance:

  • I have always wanted to learn a new Language.

However it is also used to express the idea of need (TO NEED), so:

  • Those plants want watering.

TO LIKE will in turn be used to express a wish or desire for something and is a more polite form. For example:

  • I would like a glass of water, thank you.

* Note: For Italians learning English as a Foreign Language – quando VOLERE è seguito da “CHE” la frase oggettiva è seguita da complemento oggetto più infinito e si traduce con TO WANT, solo se il verbo è usato al condizionale si usa TO LIKE, pertanto:

  • I want you to come with me (traduzione di: Voglio che tu venga con me)
  • They wanted me to go with them (traduzione di: Volevano che io andassi con loro)
  • They would like us to go with them (traduzione di: Vorrebbero che noi andassimo con loro).

TO WISH can be considered, in many ways, an idiomatic expression in the sense that it is related to a strong desire something that the speaker well knows he/she cannot truly expect to obtain, something impossible or far fetched, but it can also express regret. In such cases it is followed by the past forms such as: WERE – HAD – COULD – KNEW. So:

  • I wish I were a millionaire                                   
  • I wish I had your luck
  • I wish I could play the piano as you do              
  • I wish I knew how to get there.

SHALL/SHOULD

SHALL is used to convey an obligation that the speaker feels but that it is the express will of others, it is used in questions in the first person singular and plural and generally to ask for instructions or suggestions, as for example:

  • Oh! It’s quite warm in here, shall I open the window? 
  • The train has just left, what shall we do now?

SHOULD is used instead to express the idea of opportunity, necessity or deduction. The past tense is made up as follows: SHOULD + HAVE + the PAST PARTICIPLE of the main verb:

  • You should sleep more                                    
  • You shouldn’t work so much
  • That should Mr Brown                                      
  • They should be back soon, would you like to wait for them?                                               
  • You should have told me.

* Note: For Italians learning English as a Foreign Language: SHOULD viene usato anche per tradurre l’imperfetto congiuntivo preceduto da “Se” per esprimere ipotesi e probabilità, tuttavia se si vuole dare alla frase senso di maggiore improbabilità si sostituisce con WERE TO:

  • If you should be late, please phone me
  • If it should (if it were to) rain, we wouldn’t go out.

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