Turning Those Three Tricky Modals Around

How Pandora Brings Hope Back into the Language

What was in the box?

Pandora was a beautiful lady but she was much too curious. Zeus had given her a beautiful box. He had also given her a key to open it with, but he told she must never ever open the box. Unbeknownst to Pandora he had secretly placed every imaginable curse known to man in the box. He knew her curiosity would get the best of her and he was right. For a long time she obeyed his orders but one night she couldn’t contain her curiosity any longer. In fact, she couldn’t even sleep, wondering what treasures there might be in the box. She got up and ran to where she kept the box

fear and hatred

She cautiously unlocked the box and opened it just to take a look inside with no intention of taking any of the priceless treasures out. But the minute she opened the box, immediately all the demons and plagues Zeus had bequeathed to humanity escaped in a vaporous cloud. Horrified, to see there were no treasures and instead there were evil forces like, greed, envy, and hate, in the box, she was about to close the lid when she noticed one more thing coming out. It was hope. Hope was the last thing to be released into the world to succor the wounds left by the plagues and demons that were already trying to wreak havoc on humanity.

And it is hope that has been succoring humanity in its plight ever since.

As posted last week, couldA, shouldA, and wouldA are the Three English Words that Invite Repeated Failure. But if we look at these same grammatical structures from a different angle, we can find possibilities for interesting constructions that are more optimistic. Forming additional structures with modals that have more positive outcomes has two advantages:

1. Psychologically we create more optimistic results in the minds of our students.
2. With a wider variety of structures our students will have more opportunities to practice.  

Students need practice with these types of constructions if they are going to become proficient in the language so you can start the practice with couldA, shouldA, and wouldA for a good laugh. Students can invent outrageous excuses for not having done what should have been done. These statements should be verbalized and even paraded in front of the class.

Then just when this ‘hopeless’ practice becomes smooth and easy for the students and you can see they are acquiring the modal construction, turn the practice around by making it more positive and introspective. Change the mood. Complex constructions with modals can be difficult to acquire so practicing with different perspectives is great for acquisition. Your students can become philosophers with a sense of gratitude for the good outcomes in life.

There is still hope

The initial idea is to have students create statements about things they definitely thought could have, should have or would have happened but didn’t. But the thing that didn’t happen does not have to be negative. It can also be a beneficial or unexpected outcome. It’s a way of grammatically putting hope back into the language by improving the ultimate  result which can be more advantageous than the initial wish or supposition. Following are three ways to turn the tide in our ESL/EFL classrooms and get extra practice at the same time.  

(Modal + Have + Past Participle)

The fact that something didn’t happen the way it should have, or as we hoped it would have, isn’t necessarily bad. What didn’t happen can be better for the person in question than what was expected as shown in the following examples:

“Al Gore should have won the presidential election but instead he made vital contributions to the environment.”
“Lysol could have manufactured an amazing air freshener but the chemicals would have caused brain damage.”
“My father would have been in that fatal plane accident but an unexpected traffic jam forced him to miss his flight”

Same constructions, different outcomes, simply by changing something negative and giving it a positive outcome. Allow your students to invent their own sentences as long as they follow the correct present perfect template. If students are not yet advanced keep the sentences simple:

“I could have flunked but my sister tutored me.”
“I should have finished in 30 minutes but the teacher gave me extra time.”
“I would have eaten a fattening dessert but it was all gone.”
“I would have been hit  by the truck but I saw it just in time.”

 Let your students think of unlucky situations and change their luck with BUT. 

(Modal + Be + Verb + ing)

“I should be getting my bonus tomorrow.”
“I could be going to the party tonight.”
“I would be breathing contaminated air but I took the forest trail.” 

 The progressive is already more hopeful than the present perfect. 

(Modal + Be + Past Participle)

“I could be chosen for the talent show.”
“I should be finished in time for the outing.”
“I would be flooded out but I live in a high area..”

These translate as a wish or as a thankful statement of relief.

Be takes our modal into the present progressive or the passive voice while retaining hope that the action can or will be finished in time for getting the desired result.

The moral is that if you teach could/should/would with the present perfect with a funny outcome, students will start the class having fun. Then follow up with the present progressive and passive voice to bring some ‘hope’ back into the grammar as it were. Use both sides of the coin. Be grateful. Focus on woeful things that could have happened and didn’t because of some precaution or saving grace.

Next week we will cover more hopeful modal combinations than: couldA, shouldA, and wouldA! 

 -The story of Pandora’s box is loosely based on Greek mythology.

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