Intermediate grammar exercise: modal verbs for past probability – must have, can’t have, couldn’t have, may have

English grammar practice exercise, intermediate level.

In this exercise you will practise using modal verbs to express past probability: must have, can’t have, could have, may have, might have.

Instructions: Fill in each gap using one of the above modal verbs. There is a grammar explanation at the bottom of the page.

Example:
Someone was ringing. I’m sure it was my brother – he promised to call.
Someone was ringing. It been my brother – he promised to call.


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Must have, can't have, couldn't have:
expressing past probability
Structure: modal verb + have + past participle
must have been, can't have gone, couldn't have gone, etc.
We use must have to express that we feel sure that something was true in the past. They must have left early.
He must have already gone.
We use can't have or couldn't have to say that we believe something was impossible in the past. He can't have escaped through this window – it’s too small.
She can't have said that.
She couldn't have said that.
May / might / could have: expressing past probability
Structure: modal + have + past participle
may have been, could have gone, might have lost, etc.
We use may have, could have, might have to say that it was possible that something happened in the past (but we are not 100% sure). He may have missed the bus.
The road might have been blocked.

(= ‘I think the road was blocked, but I’m not 100% sure.’)
The negatives are may not have and might not have. We don’t use couldn’t have in the same way. He may not have left yet.
I might not have given her the money; I’m not sure.

I could not have given her the money, I’m not sure.

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