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MUST – HAVE TO = DOVERE (entrambi esprimono obbligo)

Must è usato in generale per esprimere un obbligo che proviene da chi parla:
I must remember to pick up my ticket from the travel agency.

All passengers must have a valid ticket.

“Must I have a bath?” “Yes, you must!”

(desidero sapere la volontà della persona cui mi sto rivolgendo)

Have to è usato in genere per esprimere un obbligo sentito come esterno dalla
persona che parla:
I have to clock in every morning.
You have to produce a medical certificate if you’re absent for more than two days

Must è generalmente riferito al presente. Può anche essere riferito al futuro quando è
accompagnato da una determinazione di tempo futura:
I must leave in a few days.
Nel caso in cui manchi una determinazione temporale che indichi che ci si sta
riferendo al futuro e comunque per tutti i tempi e modi diversi dal presente si usa to
have to:
I will have to widen the doors of the flat, unless you start losing weight.
No one likes having to work on Sundays.
We had to light candles, because there was a power cut.
To have to richiede l’ausiliare do, does, did nella forma negativa ed interrogativa del
presente e del passato:
You don’t have to do it if you don’t want.

Must è anche usato per esprimere supposizione, deduzione logica:

The children are digging a deep hole in the garden:
They must be trying to get to Australia

They must have decided to look for buried treasure.

Must non è di norma usato per esprimere supposizioni in frasi negative. La
supposizione negativa è generalmente espressa con can’t:
He didn’t reply to my letter; he can’t have received it.
Must have e can’t have + participio passato sono usati per una supposizione
riferita al passato:
It must have been 11 when they came home.


Can, could hanno tre significati fondamentali: capacità, possibilità, permesso.

May, might hanno due significati fondamentali: possibilità, permesso.

Can, could e be able sono usati per indicare la capacità, l’abilità di compiere

a) Can è usato per esprimere la capacità al presente:

Can Jim speak Japanese?
I can walk a tightrope with my eyes closed.
Can può anche esprimere una capacità futura quando è espressa una
determinazione di tempo:
Don’t type this letter now, you can do it tomorrow.
b) Could è usato per indicare una generica capacità di compiere un’azione al
Harry Houdini could escape from padlocks and chains.
(Harry Houdini era capace di liberarsi da lucchetti e catene)
Quando però si intende che un’azione è stata effettivamente compiuta si usa
was/were able to:
Dr Bodley was able to escape from the bear by climbing a tree.
Si osservi la differenza:
Livingstone could speak Spanish, so he was able to interpret for us.
c) Tutti i tempi e modo mancanti di can, could con significato di capacità si
formano con to be able. Nella forma negativa oltre a not to be able si può
usare, con valore più enfatico, to be unable.
I have never been able to speak to him openly.
I would love to be able to become invisible.

d) Altre forme usate per esprimere capacità sono: be capable of, succeed in,
manage to.
Capable of è usato più frequentemente in frasi negative per sottolineare
He is not capable of taking initiatives by himself.
Succeed in e, più informale, manage to sono modi enfatici di esprimere la
riuscita in un’azione particolare:
I succeeded in outwitting my adversaries.
Did you manage to get tickets for the Rolling Stones concert?

2- Can, could, may, might sono usati per esprimere possibilità probabilità.

a) La principale differenza tra can, could e may sta nel fatto che can e could sono
riferiti a possibilità sempre potenzialmente presenti, conservando parte del
loro significato di capacità, abilità; may manifesta sempre un dubbio,
un’opinione soggettiva (= può darsi che, forse) ed esprime perciò predizione
su una situazione specifica.
Si osservino le differenze negli esempi:
You can sometimes see foxes in British cities at night.
Don’t touch that snake! It may only be playing dead.
The conference may be postponed because of technical difficulties.
Might è usato al posto di may per esprimere maggiore incertezza. Could può
anche essere usato con questo significato.
Might have e could have implicano spesso che un fatto non si è verificato:
For Heaven’s sake be more careful! You might/could have been killed.
b) Per la sfumatura di dubbio che may e might esprimono sono spesso usati in
frasi concessive (ad esempio dopo however, whatever…)
It may be a beautiful country, but I’m not going there till the political situation
Wherever you may go, you can’t leave the past behind you.
c) Can, could e might sono spesso usati in suggerimenti:
What shall I do to improve my English?
- You can go on a working holiday in Britain or the U.S.A.
- You could go to pubs where you know you’ll meet English speaking people
- You might try listening to the B.B.C. on short wave.
d) May è usato come augurio in forme enfatiche o linguaggio letterario:
May she rest in peace.

3 – May, might, can, could sono usati per indicare permesso.


a) Per chiedere un permesso possono essere usati sia may, might che can, could..
May e might sono modi più formali di chiedere permesso rispetto a can e could
che vengono invece più frequentemente usati in rapporti meno formali:
Can I turn on the television?
May I have a look at you newspaper?
b) Might e, meno formale, could sono modi più cortesi ed esitanti di chiedere
permesso, ma solo can e may sono usati per concedere o rifiutare un
“Could I borrow your rucksack, please?” “Yes, you can”
c) Nel riferirsi in generale a permesso o divieto si usano di preferenza can
(passato could) o to be allowed to (non may o may not)
You can’t (aren’t allowed to ) buy alcoholic drinks in pubs if you are under
Could non è usato in frasi affermative quando ci si riferisce a un particolare
permesso concesso in passato. In questo caso si usano was allowed o had
permission to:
My sister was allowed to start school at the age of four.



Need (aver bisogno di, essere necessario) è usato come verbo ordinario quando è
seguito da un complemento oggetto:

I need you
Our products need a new image
Quando è seguito da un verbo:

a) è normalmente usato come verbo ordinario

Paolo needs to get a work permit if he wants to work in the United States.
I desperately needed to talk to someone.
b) Al presente, nella forma negativa e, più raramente, nella forma interrogativa
può anche essere usato come verbo modale (cioè non richiede do, does; non
prende la –s nella 3° pers sing.; non è seguito dal to dell’infinito)
You don’t need to worry: everything will be settled tomorrow.
You needn’t worry: everything will be settled tomorrow.
La differenza fra don’t need to e needn’t è spesso poco rilevante e l’uso
dell’uno o dell’altro dipende dal modo in cui è considerata la situazione. Don’t
need to è preferito quando si esprime mancanza di necessità in generale;
needn’t quando è chi parla che esonera da un obbligo:

Quartz watches don’t need to be wound up.

You needn’t give me a lift: I’m quite happy to walk.
Le forme interrogative need I/you/ he? sono quasi sinonimi di must I/you/he?
anche se esistono delle implicazioni diverse a seconda che si usi need I o must
I? In particolare:
Need I? è generalmente usato quando ci si aspetta risposta negativa, per lo più
in domande retoriche
Need I check all the figures again? Can’t you do it yourself?
Need you/he? sono usati spesso per esprimere irritazione:
Need you make all that noise?
c) al passato need può avere due costruzioni negative:
didn’t need to
needn’t have + participio passato
Didn’t need to indica semplicemente una mancanza di necessità al passato
(non importa che l’azione sia stata compiuta o meno):
There was no one at the box-office, so we didn’t need to queue at all.
Needn’t have + participio passato indica che una certa azione è stata
compiuta, ma che non era affatto necessario compierla:
You needn’t have come all the way here; you could have telephoned.


1. A group of people decided to take a tour around the world. They had a lot of
misadventures, but luckily there was always one of them who was able to help
them out of difficult situations. Complete their account of the journey with
could, couldn’t or was/were able to.

In the Himalayas: we were driving our jeep up a mountain track when a rock fell in
the middle of the track and we _____________________ pass. Bert
__________________ lift heavy weights and he _____________________ remove
the rock.

In India: we had to cross a river that was full of crocodiles. Dave and Bob

______________ build rafts, so we ______________________ reach the other bank

of the river safely.

In New Guinea: We were taken prisoner by a tribe of cannibals. Nicola


speak their language and _____________________ convince them that a dish of

spaghetti was better than our flesh.

In the Gobi desert: we were thirsty and our supply of water had finished. Amin was a
water diviner and _________________________ find water with a stick, so he
___________________ find a pool of water.

In the Amazon: Mark was bitten by a snake but Consuelo _________________ save
him. Cosuelo had lived many years with Indios, so she _____________________
cure bites with potions.

In the Artic: we had to spend the night in a frozen fiord but we had lost our camping
equipment. Fortunately Hinnuito ________________________ build an igloo.
Hinnuito was born in the Artic, so he ___________________________ build igloos
very quickly. Our boat was trapped in the ice and the block of ice we were on started
floating. None of us _______________________ do anything so this is where our
tour of the world ended.

2. Insert can, could, may, might in the sentences. In some sentences more than
one fits.

1. I _________________ go out this evening, but I’m not sure.

2. When houses were made of wood and they had thatched roofs a fire
___________________ destroy whole cities.
3. The weather is getting worse. It __________________ rain this afternoon.
4. I’ve lost my glasses.
You _____________________ have left them at home.
5. Don’t touch that! It ________________ be an unexploded bomb.
6. You ___________________ often see bears walking in the town at night up
here in winter.
7. Richard is working, but he __________________________ be able to join us

3. Insert may, can, might, could in the following short dialogues. In most
sentences more than one fits.

a) A: Excuse me, _________________ I come in?

B: Please, do.

A: I was looking for Mr Barrie.

B: He’s out at the moment.
A: Do you think I __________________ leave a message on his desk?
B: Certainly. You ___________________ use the typewriter if you like.
A: Thank you, I’ll be very quick.

b) B: Clara, I have to go away for a few days. ______________ I leave my dog

with you? I don’t know who else I ___________________ trust with him.
A: I’d be pleased to have him, but we _______________________ keep
animals in this block of flats.

4. Insert must or have to in the sentences. In some sentences both are acceptable.

1. The train is leaving and I still _______________________ buy the tickets.

2. I really _______________________ go now. I’ve got a lot of work to do and I
will feel guilty if I don’t finish it tonight.
3. (he really) ______________________ get up at 6 every morning?
4. I _________________________ go to the dentist’s tomorrow, my tooth aches.
5. If you don’t stop eating sweets, you ______________________ go to the
dentist’s and have all your teeth pulled out.
6. All traveller cheques __________________ be signed in the presence of the
bank clerk in order to be valid.
7. A: Are you going already? You’ve got plenty of time.
B: I don’t like _____________________rush.
8. Dave _______________________ travel a lot recently.
9. Malcolm was waiting for me at the station, so I (not)
______________________ take a taxi.
10. A: (you) _________________________ finish all this tomorrow?
B: I’m afraid I ___________________.
11.Bernard fell from a ladder yesterday and they _______________________
take him to hospital. He’ll ___________________ stay there for ten days.
12.What time (you) ____________________ be back?
13.(I) ______________________ sign all these papers?

5. Alexander has got lost. His friends are discussing what might have happened to
him. Rewrite the expressions underlined using must or can.

Paul: I’m sure he hasn’t seen the sign.

e.g. He can’t have seen the sign.
He has certainly taken the left-hand fork in the road.
He must have taken the left-hand fork in the road.
Ellen: Yes, he was probably chatting and got distracted.
Yes, he must have been chatting and got distracted.

Paul: I’m sure he is coming back now.

Brenda: Yes, I don’t’ think he is far away. Let’s wait for him.

Paul: I wouldn’t be so sure. I think he got mixed up with Ellen’s directions. She’s
never very clear. She probably told him that he had to continue straight on.

Ellen: I certainly haven’t told him to go through Fivton. Anyway he has certainly
realized himself that you don’t go towards the sea from there but you turn inland.

Paul: It certainly isn’t so very hard to find the right road. I suggest we carry on. He’ll
catch up sooner or later.

Brenda: Look, there’s a car coming. I’m sure it’s him.