Intonation and Modal Verbs

There are many different intonation patterns, but the key element in each one is a certain type of tone or change in pitch – falling (↓), rising (↑) or falling-rising (↓↑). An arrow here indicates the tone of the following syllable.

  1. Falling: This is used with statements, commands and questions beginning with a wh-  The voice falls, usually on the last stressed syllable (i.e. the last syllable in the sentence carrying primary stress), and continues on a low pitch. – Examples: He wasn’t wearing a ↓ CRASH helmet. Why are the roads so ↓ DANgerous?
  2. Rising: This is used Yes/No questions, and statements used as  questions. The voice rises on the last stressed syllable and then continues  going up. – Examples:  Is the accident rate in↑CREASing? Surely he had a ↑ CRASH helmet?
  3. Falling – Rising: This is used for implications or emotional overtones that are not stated. It may come all on one syllable, or may be spread over several syllables. – Examples: Nothing’s wrong with the ↓ ENG↑ine! Don’t park in front of the ↓↑ GATE!

When a speaker wants to use ’emphatic’ or ‘contrastive’ stress in a sentence, the syllable with a fall, rise e.t.c may be other than the last stressed one:

There’s ↓ NOTHing wrong with the engine!

Revision: Modal Verbs

We constantly have to use modal verbs or modal auxiliaries in English. They include such important little words as may and must. Can you identify a modal verb in a sentence? Make sure that you can properly form phrases that begin with a modal. The vital point is that a modal is followed by an infinitive form of an ordinary verb; and there are many different infinitive forms. With the modal may and the ordinary verb write as our example, we find these phrases:

may write

may be writing

may have written

may have been writing

may be written

may have been written

Use of Modal Verbs

Idea ExpressedModal(s) usedExamples
AbilityCan (could)I can drive. I told him I could drive
PermissionMay (might)Can (could)You may come in nowYou can finish the meatHe said I could finish the meatCould I have a look at that book? (very polite)
ObligationMustShould/ought toThey must pay for the damage(whether they like it or not)They ought to pay for the damage
Prediction (of future events willingness)Will/shall (would/should)Will (would)That building will soon collapseHe said the building would soon collapseI will show you the wayWould you pass me the salt, please?
Degrees of PossibilityMust-may-might/could-can’tIt must be raining (very certain)It may be raining ( less certain)It can’t be raining (impossible)

Modals and Politeness

Some of the modals are very important for making polite requests or when offering somebody something.

Can I look at your newspaper?

May I look at your newspaper?

Could I look at your newspaper?

All of these are more polite than saying: ‘Give me your newspaper’, which in fact sounds very rude. Can I…? is less polite than Could I…? while May I…? is very formal.

Another very polite form is:

Would you mind lending me your newspaper?

We also use Would you…? when making an offer, e.g.: Would you like something something eat?

This is more polite  than ‘Have something to eat’

Another polite form is Shall I…? It is used when you are absolutely certain that someone would like you to do something.

For example, a son may say to his father:

Shall I put the generator on?


In pairs, practise making polite requests based on these situations.

  • carrying a heavy bag;
  • explaining a maths problem;
  • lending a mobile phone;
  • going to the post-office;
  • going through an assignment.

Other modal verbs

There are a few more more modal or modal-like verbs that you need to know and use

  1. Have to (have/has/had to): This is very much like must, and expresses a strong obligation or necessity.

He has to pay for the damage, whether he likes it or not

  1. Be to (am/are/is/was/were to): This expresses a future arrangement

e.g. Abel is to have another injection next week

  1. Be (am/are/is/was/were): This is a very common way of referring to the future

e.g. Abel is going to have another injection next week

This meaning is slightly different from the last example – Abel intends to have the injection; It’s not just that the doctor has told him to come for it.

  1. Need (to): This shows that some need or necessity is felt to be present (needn’t means its absence). Need can be followed by to  and then behaves like an ordinary verb: needn’t is never followed by to.

Study these examples:

  1. ‘Need I go to the market today?’ asked Cecilia. ‘I went there only yesterday.'( We could also say: ‘Do I need to go…?’)
  2. ‘You must do this exercise again,’said the teacher, ‘but you needn’t bring it to me – I will assume you’ve done it.’
  3. ‘You needn’t have washed the car, Joseph – Cletus did it only yesterday.’
  4. Dare (to): This means ‘have the courage to …’ and is more common in the negative:

He didn’t dare to argue.
He hardly dared to argue.

In the negative, dare can be used without to following it

Examination Hints: Comprehension

Comprehension takes up the first of the two sections of Part B of Paper 1 and accounts for 15% of the total examination mark. Candidates are advised to spend about 45minutes on the section as a whole, or 20-25 minutes on each passage and its questions.

The syllabus states that the questions will test the candidate’s ability to:

  1. find equivalents for selected words and phrases
  2. show understanding of the factual content
  3. draw conclusions from the language used
  4. show understanding of the emotions or attitudes expressed (either those of the writer or of persons being reported by the writer)
  5. identify and name grammatical functions of words, phrases and clauses as used in the passage
  6. re-form sentences or parts of sentences so that they have the same meaning but a different grammatical structure
  7. identify and understand the figurative use of language

If you have followed this course from the beginning, you ought to by now have developed a high standard of comprehension skills relevant to your examination. The reading plan of comprehension and summary passages is as follows:

  1. Survey the passage
  2. Quickly read the passage
  3. Look at the questions and keep them in mind as you come to stage 4
  4. Slowly read the passage
  5. Answer the questions
  6. Re-read and if necessary correct your answers. (Re-reading anything you write nearly always helps you to improve it)

Here are a few hints about answering comprehension questions

  1. Answer the questions as briefly and as clearly as you can
  2. As far as possible, use your own words
  3. Write your answers in complete sentences unless the question clearly tells you to do otherwise
  4. Your understanding of the meaning of individual words and phrases is likely to be tested in two ways
    You may be required to replace the word or phrase with a word or phrase of the same meaning (otherwise known as synonym)
    b. Alternatively, you may be asked to explain the word or phrase as used in the passage.

Type a expects you to give a short simple answer while Type expects you to explain.

e.g. If you are asked to replace a word ‘strolling’, your answer would be ‘walking slowly’- Type a

but for type b, if you are asked to explain strolling, your answer would be ‘walk slowly or casually’ probably Yusuf was relaxing or wasn’t in a hurry.


  1. Differentiate between rising and falling tones and give examples of both.
  2. What are modal verbs?
  3. Choose the most suitable answer
  4. The country ___ make progress unless we all work harder
  5. won’t
  6. could
  7. wouldn’t
  8. mustn’t
  9. You ___ obtain the JAMB form at once and send it off – that’s my advice to you
  10. must
  11. should
  12. would
  13. may
  14. It ___ have been Peter you saw outside. He’s just entered the house
  15. must
  16. ought to
  17. can’t
  18. may
  19. She told me I ___ call after we have finished the work
  20. could
  21. would
  22. be able to
  23. ought
  24. I ___ try to read unless I wear those glasses. That’s what the doctor ordered.
  25. mustn’t
  26. should
  27. wouldn’t
  28. can’t

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