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Y12 Perfect Modals

Yellow Level

Lesson Twelve:

Perfect Modal Verbs

modal verb + have + past participle


Perfect modals take a modal verb (could, should, must, might/may) and pairs it with a perfect tense phrase (have + past participle), which is how it gets its name. Don’t let the vocabulary confuse you! When we say perfect modals, we are not saying that these are modals that are perfect. 


Each of these modal constructions have slightly different meanings, and that’s what you will learn in this lesson. Pay attention to the construction and use of each, as these phrases are very common in English- you will hear them often and will need to use them. Overall, perfect modals allow you to talk about possibilities or regret. 


As an added bonus, one way to remember this type of construction? Take a listen to one of the most popular American songs, “It Must Have Been Love” and you will never use it incorrectly!


Perfect Modal

could have _____

couldn’t have _____

past ability
The boy could have done the dishes himself, but his father decided to help.

should have ____

shouldn’t have ____

You did or didn’t do something that was a good idea.

The girl shouldn’t have spun around so many times. She got dizzy and fell down.

spin: turn around many times.

spin / spun / spun

would have ____

wouldn’t have ____

past condition /

past situation

This house of cards would have fallen over if the person who built it hadn’t been so careful.

may have _____

may not have _____

past possibility
My grandfather may have used this camera when he was a young man, but I’m not sure.

might have ______

might not have _____

past possibility
Her mother might have put mustard on her sandwich. She hopes not.

must have ____

must not have ___

past probability.

This indicates that something probably happened in the past.

They must have practiced a lot because they’re very good musicians.


Let’s not forget…

The Future Perfect Tense

Unlike all the other modals above, will is used for the future:

Subject + will + have + past participle

I will have lived
We will have lived
You will have lived
You will have lived
He will have lived
She will have lived
They will have lived
It will have lived

This is a difficult tense to use. It describes an action that will be completed in the future.

For example:

I moved to Minnesota in 1991. The year now is 2008.

By 2011, I will have lived in Minnesota for 20 years.


Click here for a quiz


Next: Lesson 13

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