past modals

past modals
  • must have + p.

Æ    a deduction about something that has happened.

Example:      If your mobile isn’t in your bag, you must have left it in the house.

  • can’t / couldn’t have + p.

Æ    a deduction about something that didn’t happen in the past.

Example:      I can’t have lost my wallet! (I’m sure I didn’t)

                   She couldn’t have said that!

  • could /may /may not/ might have / might have not + p.

Æ    something was possible but it didn’t happen.

Æ    it was possible that something happened in the past (but we are not 100% sure).

Example:      I could have passed my English test if I’d studied harder

                   He may have / may not have missed the bus.

                       The assistant might / might not have received her message.

  • should have + p.
  • something was positive or needed, but did not take place.

Æ it was possible that something happened in the past (but we are not 100% sure).

Example:      I should have phoned my sister last night, but I forgot. (I needed to phone my sister but I didn’t phone her)

                   John should have received the letter.


  • shouldn’t have + p.

Æ    something did take place but that wasn’t positive or needed:

Example:      You shouldn’t have eaten so many sweets, you’ll be sick. (You ate a lot of sweets and it wasn’t a good idea)

  • needn’t have + p.

Æ      something was done, but that it was not necessary.

Example:      Oh, you needn’t have done the washing up! (we’ve got a washing machine)

Exercise. Complete the sentences with a suitable modal verb in the past More than a solution is sometimes possible.

  1. Jack passed his exam with a good mark. He ______________________ (study) very hard.
  2. We found the exam very easy. We ______________________ (study) so hard.
  3. Robert failed his exam. He ______________________ (study) much.
  4. We ______________________ (hurry). We got there far too early.
  5. Meg’s looking very happy. She ______________________ (get) the prize she wanted.
  6. I can’t find my glasses anywhere. I ______________________ (leave) them on the train.
  7. Kate ______________________ (go) to Mary’s house.
  8. He was standing right next to you. You ______________________ (miss) him.
  9. He was here a moment ago. He ______________________ (go) far.
  10. He went to Alaska on holiday. It ______________________ (be) very cold.
  11. Jerry’s late. He ______________________ (miss) the bus.
  12. Jessica ______________________ (tell) lies.
  13. You ______________________ (phone) to say you were late. I’ve been waiting for hours.
  14. I’m so happy they didn’t find the safe. They ______________________ (take) everything.
  15. The thieves ______________________ (get) into the house through the window. It’s broken.
  16. You ______________________ (tell) me you were vegetarian. I’ve prepared lamb.
  17. Jason ______________________ (be) a professional tennis player but he wasn’t interested.
  18. You ______________________ (lose) your keys. We used them to open the door.
  19. Tony ______________________ (catch) the plane. He had plenty of time.
  20. My mum ______________________ (forget) to lock the door when she went out.
  21. You must be dreaming. You ______________________ (see) a puma in our garden.

22.They ______________________ (wait) outside until it was dark because nobody saw them.

  1. You ______________________ (come) to the station. I could have got a taxi.
  2. You should keep your dog on a lead! It ______________________ (cause) an accident.
  3. He ______________________ (receive) the fax. We sent it half an hour ago.


  1. must have studied
  2. needn’t have studied
  3. should have studied
  4. needn’t have hurried
  5. must have got
  6. must have left
  7. can / may / might / have gone
  8. can’t have missed
  9. can’t have gone
  10. must have been
  11. must have missed
  12. shouldn’t have told
  13. could / might have phoned
  14. could / may / might have taken
  15. must have got
  16. might have told
  17. could / might have been
  18. can’t / couldn’t have lost
  19. should have caught
  20. could / may / might have forgotten
  21. can’t have seen
  22. must have waited
  23. needn’t have come
  24. might have caused
  25. should / must have recived



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