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Finally, let’s take a look at reporting with some modal auxiliaries

First of all, what exactly is a modal auxiliary?

A modal auxiliary is an auxiliary which modifies the following verb. It gives meaning to a sentence such as obligation (must), ability (can), possibility (may), or recommendation (should).

Modal auxiliaries Can and May change to Could and Would when reporting.

Whilst have to is not technically a modal auxiliary, it is often grouped with modal auxiliaries for convenience when explaining reported speech. Since have to is the present form of the verb, when reporting we use the past form, had to.

Modal auxiliaries Should, Must, Might, Could and Would stay the same in reported speech. 

Could in the case of ability or opportunity in the past changes to had been able to.

Examples:

Original Statement: “My brother can speak five languages.”

Reported Statement: She told us her brother could speak five languages.

Original Statement: “We should eat more vegetables!”

Reported Statement: She said that they should eat more vegetables.

Original Statement: “My daughter has to do her homework before she is allowed to watch TV.”

Reported Statement: He told us that his daughter had to do her homework before she was allowed to watch TV.”

Original Statement: “When I was younger, I could play the piano really well. I entered several national competitions.”

Reported Statement: He said when he was younger he had been able to play the piano really well. He told me he had entered several national competitions.”

Original Statement: “If we have time, we could watch another episode.”

Reported Statement: He said that if we had time we could watch another episode.

Activity

Think back to when you were a child. What were some things that your parents, teachers or caregivers told you you should, must, had to, could, or couldn’t do. What advice were you given that has stuck with you?

Allow yourself 20-30 minutes to think about this topic and write down your ideas.

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