Sometimes the news can be pretty depressing. There are more than enough stories about wars, political strife and natural disasters to deter you from ever opening a newspaper or switching on the TV again. Other times, however, the news can be all but guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Stories that make us laugh out loud or see the funny side of life are a welcome relief from the more serious developments of the world we live in. But how can we talk about them?
This article is going to focus on one way we can discuss recent news stories using past modals, a particularly tricky aspect of English grammar that is made that much easier by focusing on real topics.
Take, for example, this story below:
A convicted criminal appeared before a judge in the United States charged with unlawful imprisonment and carrying a concealed weapon. A pretty standard news story so far. Well, in a completely unexpected move, the felon (another word for criminal) decided to express his sincere regret for the crime by singing a song to the judge, the victim and his own mother based on the tune to Adele’s smash hit single Hello. Take a look:
Convicted felon apologises with Adele-inspired song
Unfortunately for the singer, his efforts to charm the judge with his silky smooth voice failed and he was sentenced to seventeen years in prison instead of the thirty-six month sentence he had requested.
Let’s look at some comments we could make about this criminal and the grammar that we could use:
Person A: I think this was a good idea to express that he was really sorry for his crimes but he should have chosen an older song so that the judge was more familiar with it.
Person B: Yes, definitely. The judge can’t have been an Adele fan if he still sentenced him to seventeen years.
Person A: I guess he must have thought that the judge would view him as sensitive if he sang. He might have watched American Idol the night before and taken the idea from there.
Person B: Yes, but in my opinion he should have spent a little more time on the lyrics. It sounds like he just made them up on the spot. Anyway, perhaps it was too late for him at that point. He shouldn’t have waited until the sentencing to start singing.
Let’s take a closer look at the grammar we saw in the previous conversation:
- He should have chosen an older song so that the judge was more familiar with it.
Should have + past participle: This is used to express something that was a good idea but didn’t happen.
- He ought to have spent a little more time on the lyrics.
Ought to have + past participle: This is the same as should have + past participle and thus indicates that something was a good idea but didn’t happen.
- He shouldn’t have waited until the sentencing to start singing.
Shouldn’t have + past participle: This is used to express something that happened but was a bad idea.
- He must have thought the judge would view him as sensitive if he sang a song.
Must have + past participle: This is used to express something that we are certain about or something for which there is a lot of evidence.
- He could have / may have / might have watched American Idol the night before the trial.
Could have / may have / might have + past participle: These three forms can be used interchangeably and all mean that logically, it is possible that this was the case.
- The judge can’t have been an Adele fan if he still sentenced him to seventeen years.
Can’t have + past participle: We use this form to express that logically, it seems impossible that this was the case.
Now that we’ve looked at the grammar, let’s focus on some more news stories. Follow the links to find out more about the stories and then make sentences using the six target forms above.
Man tries to “time travel,” drives his car straight through the wall of a shopping centre
Anyone familiar with the Back to the Future film trilogy will be fully aware of what happens when your modified DeLorean reaches 88 miles per hour. Unfortunately, however, it seems the same is not true for a Dodge Challenger. The explanation given by this driver after he crashed his car straight through the wall of a shopping centre may have been a joke, but it received international attention in the press.
Man who survived lightning strike wins $1m jackpot with co-worker
Getting struck by lightning is often seen as the archetypal instance of bad luck. Winning a fortune in the lottery, meanwhile, is something I’m sure we’ve all dreamt about. So this Canadian man seems to have experienced both extremes after winning a state lottery and being struck by lightning as a teenager. In fact, this combination of events is so rare that a mathematics professor in the article gives it odds of one in 2.6 trillion!
Boyband member collapses on flight after wearing all his clothes to avoid extra luggage costs
Perhaps we’ve all considered putting on every item of clothing we have in order to avoid an extortionate fee from a low-cost airline. This aspiring popstar, however, decided to actually go through with it. A bad idea, it seems, after he collapsed on the flight from overheating and had to be taken to hospital. Luckily the singer recovered fully and presumably learnt his lesson to pack lighter in future.
Bangkok half marathon becomes world’s longest after wrong U-turn
Training for a half marathon is a sufficient enough challenge without bad planning adding another four miles to the route. But that’s exactly what happened with this race in Bangkok, Thailand, after organisers sent the runners on an unexpected detour. They apologised for the mistake, but the runners were less than happy about being forced to compete a “super half marathon” as it was subsequently dubbed.
Zoo realises it has been trying to mate two male hyenas for four years
Zoos often have breedings programmes designed to produce offspring. But this Japanese zoo was perplexed as to why they couldn’t get two hyenas to reproduce. All became clear, however, after conducting tests on the two animals and finding out they were both male. The zoo is now seeking an authentic female hyena to start a breeding programme with either of them.
Hero Image by Matthew G (CC BY 2.0)