When people have to refuse to do something that you want them to do, they often make excuses; and for that they often use a modal or an auxiliary verb. Just think of the nuances of English you get with “I might.” “I can’t.” “I would if I could.”
Modal verbs in English often work in pairs. Think of…
I can but I won’t. — I should but I can’t. — I shouldn’t but I will. — I would but I can’t. — I can and I will.
The Excuse Song
In this song, we get lame excuses* using multiple modal verbs.
*lame excuse = a bad excuse, or one that’s difficult to believe
Provide students with the fill-in-the-blank activity (below) before listening to the song. See if they can find pairs of modal verbs that will work. Give them these to choose from: can, could, will, should, had better (or just “better”), would rather, supposed to.
Note: negative forms are needed sometimes.
1. “These cookies are wonderful, Bill. I __________ have another but I __________.”
2. “It __________ be better if we __________ take things slow. So call me in September. Listen, I gotta go!”
3. “I know I __________ visit. I really want to. But I __________ go to the library, I’ve got a book overdue.”
4.”I __________ if I __________ , but I __________ . I’m busy all day. I’m __________ visit my aunt.” (But I don’t have an aunt. She’s dead.)
After the listening task, ask students to imagine the scene or scenario in which the speakers might say these things. Perhaps they can write a paragraph leading up to each of these excuses.
1.”These cookies are wonderful, Bill. I shouldn’t have another but I will.”
2. “It might be better if we could take things slow. So call me in September. Listen, I gotta go!”
3. “I know I should visit. I really want to. But I better go to the library, I’ve got a book overdue.”
4. “I would if I could, but I can’t. I’m busy all day. I’m supposed to visit my aunt.” (But I don’t have an aunt. She’s dead.)
Vocalists: Steve, Kristin, and Phil Venuti