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Modality: in-service training sessions


In-service training is usually where people encounter a more sophisticated analysis of modality than simply talking about obligation, deduction, ability and so on.

Now is the time raise awareness of the four major types of modality and to get away from the idea that modality is only concerned with modal auxiliary verbs.

However, as a revision task, you may like to use the initial-training worksheet for the main modal auxiliary verbs.  It will serve to remind and focus people.  Click here to download that worksheet:


The key ideas

These are the areas on which these worksheets focus.  A session of between 2 and 3 hours should be enough to cover the essentials and give people the tools they need to focus on certain aspects of the area for an assignment.
It will not be enough in itself, of course.

  • Modality
    • epistemic
    • deontic
    • dynamic
    • alethic
  • Modality with
    • modal auxiliary verbs
    • semi-modal auxiliary verbs
    • marginal modal auxiliary verbs
    • lexical modal verbs
    • modal adverbials
    • modal nouns
    • modal adjectives

The aim of all of this is to give trainees the essential data they need to be able to teach modality and recognise the range of communicative functions their learners need to use.


Four types of modality

Without introducing the terminology at this stage, the first task on the worksheet is an awareness-raising exercise to get people to work in the categories they will need later.
It also alerts people to the fact that there is much more to modality than modal auxiliary verbs.


Once the task is complete and you have discussed the awkward cases, it's time to introduce the four terms.

The second task on the worksheet focuses on seven ways to express modality in English and asks people to do two things:

  1. Recognise the type of modality
  2. Say how it is realised grammatically

For the purposes of this, it is not necessary, unless you want to, to distinguish between adjuncts and disjuncts or prepositional phrase adverbials but there are examples of each in the task.

If you would like a crib sheet with the answers, it's available here.
Depending on your analysis and what you have told people, there may be some discrepancy concerning which auxiliary verbs fall into the categories of central, semi- and marginal modal auxiliary verbs.

An extension to the task is to take some of the non-modal-auxiliary-verb examples and rephrase them with modal auxiliary verbs to reveal the nature of modality in question.


Related areas

Modality is treated at length in the in-service guides and the index to the area is linked below.

Related guides
modals one by one this guide contains a basic analysis in terms of meaning and syntax
essentials of modality  this guide considers just the basics
tests on modality this is a set of six linked tests which you can direct people to for revision
the in-service guides for the in-service index of modality
A-Z index where you can find guides to or containing specific concepts and terms