Problem areas: Modals


The aim of this page is to help you write tentative sentences.


It is common to use tentative language in academic work for analysis and argumentation. One way of achieving a tentative tone is to use modals (or modal verbs).

  • According to a recent study, the economy may not have really recovered, despite heavy expenditure by mainland tourists in the territory. Getting a well-paid job with bright prospects can still be very difficult for fresh graduates these days. Students must therefore learn to face reality and accept posts with a lower starting salary.

  • At present, almost all students in UGC-funded universities obtain their first degree after three years of study, but the question of whether universities should adopt a four-year curriculum is always open to discussion. Advocates believe that such a curriculum will produce graduates with better knowledge and skills.

You can use could have, may have, etc. followed by a past participle if something had the potential to occur in the past, but did not in fact take place, or if you are not certain whether it did indeed happen.

  • Rita could have passed the subject if she had submitted all the assignments on time.


Replace the word in brackets in the following sentences with a modal phrase to make it more tentative. In some cases, more than one answer is possible.

1. Learning a new language (is) a real pleasure.

2. It (is) wise to spend more time working out our needs before conducting the survey.

3. Judging from the attitude and examples used, this article (was) written by a democrat.

4. The findings indicate that excessive exposure to sunlight (is) the primary cause of skin cancer.

5. The audience (was not) aware of the mistake we made during the performance.

6. Good preparation and a sincere attitude (help) you impress the panel in an interview.

7. The method we used in analysing the data (is) wrong.

8. Why don’t you ask Paul? He (knows) the answer.

9. You (get) a better job if you have a good IELTS score.

10. Our formula (is) taken as a new measure to evaluate the existing models.


Last updated on: Monday, July 29, 2019