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Potential Mood

Potential Mood

When we discuss plans, situations, and ideas we believe have the potential to happen, we use the potential grammatical mood. The potential mood shows the listener that there is a possibility, intention, willingness, power, or even obligation to complete an action.

This article will begin by defining the grammatical moods in the English language and introduce the potential mood. It will then explain how to form the potential mood and show you plenty of examples.

Grammatical Moods in English

The term grammatical mood refers to the use of verbs and different verb forms to indicate the purpose of a sentence. The use of verbs can show whether the sentence intends to express a fact, a wish, a command, a condition, a possibility, or ask a question.

We can use and adapt certain verbs to show the grammatical mood with the help of inflections (a type of word formation, which usually involves adding letters, e.g. adding '-s' or '-ed') and auxiliary verbs (these are helping verbs, e.g. did, has, was, were, is).

There are five main grammatical moods in the English language:

  • Indicative mood - For expressing factual statements.

  • Interrogative mood - For asking questions.

  • Imperative mood - For giving instructions.

  • Conditional mood - For situations that will only occur under the condition something else happens.

  • Subjunctive mood - For discussing hypothetical situations and wishes, and giving suggestions/demands.

However, these are not the only moods you might need to know in the English language. Further grammatical moods include the optative mood (expressing wishes and hopes) and the potential mood.

Today, we will learn about the potential mood.

The Potential Mood in Grammar

The potential mood is used to express possibility and potential; this includes things such as obligation, necessity, willingness, liberty, and power. We use modal verbs (a type of auxiliary/helping verb) to help us express these things.

Let's look at some example sentences for clarity.

'He might come.' - The word might expresses possibility.

'He must come.' - The word must expresses obligation.

'He can come.' - The word can expresses power and liberty (i.e. he has the power and freedom to attend)

'He would like to come.' - The words would like to express willingness.

The potential mood is used when the speaker believes that there is at least some potential that the event or situation being discussed will take place.

How to Form the Potential Mood

Forming the potential mood involves using auxiliary verbs, specifically modal verbs.

Modal verbs are a specific type of auxiliary (helping) verbs that express possibility, probability, permission, ability, and intentions. Some examples of modal verbs include should, would, could, may, might, can, could, and must.

The most common modal verbs used in the potential mood are may, can, must, might, could, would, and should.

To form the potential mood, we use a modal verb followed by the infinitive form of a verb without the 'to' (e.g. 'to swim' becomes 'swim').

'We might swim today.'

Might = modal verb

Swim = infinitive verb without the 'to'

Potential Mood Examples

The meaning of an utterance in the potential mood is dependent on which modal verb has been used.

Let's look at the seven modal verbs used in the potential mood and their meanings.

'Beth might come tomorrow' and 'Beth may come tomorrow' = possibility (it's possible Beth is attending the event)

'Yes, Beth may come tomorrow' = liberty (Beth has been given permission and is free to attend the event)

'Yeah, I can go to the event' and 'Yeah, I could go to the event' = power (Beth has been given permission and now has the power to attend the event if she wishes)

'Are you going to the event tomorrow?' 'Yes, I would like to' = willingness (Beth has shown a willingness to attend the event)

'Beth must attend tomorrow' = obligation (Beth has no choice but to attend the event)

Potential mood Two people discussing potential plans over coffee StudySmarterFig. 1 - Two people using the potential mood to discuss potential plans.

Potential mood sentences

Here are some example sentences that are in the potential mood.

She might be visiting tomorrow.

May I join you?

I can see the movie another time.

Why aren't you coming to Spain? You must join us!

They may come to the wedding.

'Is the football on tonight?'

'I'm not sure; it might be.'

I could stay a bit longer...

I would love to hear your music!

Potential Mood - Key Takeaways

  • The potential mood is a type of grammatical mood. The term grammatical mood refers to the use of verbs and different verb forms to indicate the purpose of a sentence.
  • The potential mood expresses possibility and potential, including obligation, necessity, willingness, liberty, and power.
  • The potential mood is used when the speaker believes that there is potential that the event or situation being discussed will take place.
  • We form the potential mood using modal verbs (a type of auxiliary verb) and the infinitive form of a verb without 'to'.
  • 'She might be visiting tomorrow' is an example sentence in the potential mood.

Frequently Asked Questions about Potential Mood

The five main grammatical moods in English are the imperative, indicative, interrogative, subjunctive, and conditional moods. Further grammatical moods in English include the potential and optative moods.

The potential mood is used to express possibility and potential; this includes things such as obligation, necessity, willingness, liberty, and power.

We use the potential mood when we believe there is a possibility that what's being discussed will happen.

To form the potential mood, we use a modal verb followed by the infinitive form of a verb without the 'to'.

An example sentence in the potential mood is, 'She might be attending tomorrow.'

Final Potential Mood Quiz

Question

The potential mood is used to express what?

Show answer

Answer

Possibility and potential.

Show question

Question

What are modal verbs?

Show answer

Answer

Auxiliary verbs which are used to express modalities, such as permission, probability, ability, obligation, and intentions.

Show question

Question

How do we form the potential mood?

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Answer

With a modal verb followed by an infinitive verb without 'to'.

Show question

Question

When do we use the potential mood?

Show answer

Answer

When we believe there is a possibility that what is being discussed will happen.

Show question

Question

In the following sentence, which word is the modal verb?
'She could go to university if she wished.'

Show answer

Answer

Could

Show question

Question

In the following sentence, which word is the modal verb?
'Yes, he may come in.'

Show answer

Answer

May

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Question

In the following sentence, which word is the modal verb?
'You must stay for dinner!'


Show answer

Answer

Must

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Question

In the following sentence, what modality is being expressed?

'I would love to come to your wedding!'

Show answer

Answer

Willingness

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Question

In the following sentence, what modality is being expressed?
'I can see them anytime I want.'

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Answer

Power

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Question

In the following sentence, what modality is being expressed?

'You must be at 10.'


Show answer

Answer

Obligation 

Show question

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