6.2. Grammar revision.
What are the modal verbs for obligation?
Firstly, and most importantly, you need to realise that these modal verbs have different grammar, and different meanings from those that we have already looked at.
First we have the modal verbs for strong obligation: must and have to. What is the difference? Which is the strongest? In modern English there is no difference in strength, and usually little or no difference in meaning.
Both mean that ‘it is very important to…’
The important thing is to ask yourself, ‘Who decides?’ ‘Is it your authority or someone else’s.’
‘You have to fasten your seatbelt’, means that it is the law, i.e. the government, who decides.
All rules and regulations should use ‘have to’.
On the other hand, a sentence like, ‘I must try and remember to go to the bank’ is a personal obligation, i.e. you decide.
On the back of an aeroplane seat you might see, ‘You must fasten your seatbelt.’ Shouldn’t that be ‘You have to…’ ? You are right. This would be more grammatically correct, as it is not the airline company who makes the laws. ‘Must’ is possible here because modern companies like to personalise their instructions to the public. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, we’re your friends.’
Likewise, you could change the other example too. ‘I have to remember to go to the bank’ is common too. The difference is small, and there are few cases where you will sound incorrect using must in place of have to.
A very important variation of have to is have got to which means the same thing.
This is commonly contracted in sentences like ‘I’ve got to meet my mates’ which in turn is contracted to ‘I’ve gotta meet my mates’ and in slang and street language throughout the English speaking world you can hear ‘Gotta meet my mates.’ I wouldn’t really recommend trying to speak like this, but you should be aware of it.
The area of difficulty lies in their negative forms.
The negative of must is mustn’t.
The negative of have to and have got to are don’t have to and haven’t got to.
But the meaning is completely different.
‘You mustn’t shout at the desk sergeant’ means that it is strictly prohibited or very important that you don’t shout at him. On the other hand ‘You don’t have to shout at him’ / ‘You haven’t got to shout at him’ both mean that ‘you can if you want to’ but its not obligatory.
In other words, must, mustn’t, have to, and have got to all show obligation, don’t have to and haven’t got to denote NO obligation.
What are the modal verbs for permission and prohibition? What are the verbs for legal rights and entitlements? What are their negative forms?
Can and can’t. ‘You can’t do that in here!’ May is sometimes heard for permission and may not for prohibition, in place of can and cannot in formal situations, although usually only in its positive form. (‘May not’ is more commonly used for possibility and deduction.)
‘You may turn over your papers and begin.’
Don’t forget that you can also use be allowed to / not be allowed to.
‘You are not allowed to leave the hall during the first thirty minutes.’
Calling a lawyer. (Right) You can / may / are allowed to call a lawyer.
Filling out a form. (Obligation) You have to / have got to / must fill out this form.
Making a police statement. (Obligation) You have to / have got to / must make a police statement.
Showing proof of identification. (Obligation) You have to / have got to / must show your proof of identity.
Making a phone call. (Right) You can / may / are allowed to make a phone call.
Having a police photo (a mug shot) taken. (Obligation) You have to / have got to / must have your photo taken.
Singing rude songs about the policeman’s wife on the top of your voice. (Prohibition) You mustn’t / aren’t allowed to / may not sing rude songs about the policeman’s wife.
Leaving money and valuables at the sergeant’s desk. (Obligation) You have to / have got to / must leave all money and valuables at the sergeant’s desk.
Taking possessions into the cell. (Prohibition) You mustn’t / aren’t allowed to / may not take possessions into the cell.
Reading a copy of the bible. (Permission) You can / may / are allowed to read the bible.
Ringing the bell to attract the guard’s attention. (Permission) You can / may / are allowed to ring the bell…
Ringing the bell all night to annoy the guard. (Prohibition) You mustn’t / aren’t allowed to / may not ring the bell…
Making noise in the cell at night. (Prohibition) You mustn’t / aren’t allowed to make noise in the cell.
Eating meals in the cell. (Permission, right) You can / may / are allowed eat meals in the cell.
Counting the bricks. (No obligation) You don’t have to / haven’t got to count the bricks.
Learning how to be a successful criminal in the University of Crime. (No obligation) You don’t have to / haven’t got to learn how…
Getting a homemade tattoo of a teardrop on your cheek. (No obligation.) You don’t have to / haven’t got to get a home-made tattoo…
Having to answer the call of nature in front to all the other prisoners. (No obligation.) You don’t have to / haven’t got to answer…
Crying and asking for mummy. (No obligation) You don’t have to / haven’t got to cry….
Being allowed to leave whenever you want (Prohibition) You mustn’t / aren’t allowed to leave whenever you want.
Marking the days you spend there with white chalk on the wall. (No obligation) You don’t have to / haven’t got to mark the days…