Modal Verbs Infographic

 

Shifting the subject from reader to writer is one way to diffuse the commanding tone. This mimics a psychology technique which prevents discussions from becoming attacks–”you hurt my feelings” is aggressive, while “I feel hurt” is passive.

Here are English’s bossiest verbs with suggestions on how to use and/or avoid them. With some, the entire thought behind the original sentence is re-worked to remove the commanding voice. Facts and friendliness have more effect than a bold command, and do not underestimate the power of “please”.

Dare
The most feisty of modal verbs, when “dare” is used as a modal, it has a very specific and negative purpose.
“Don’t you dare!” or “How dare you tell her about that?”

Need
“Need” is a black or white word, so use it sparingly.
“You need this.”
Possible alternative: “Would you like this?”

Must
“You must come with us.”
Possible alternative: “We’d love to have your company.”

Should
“You should eat more vegetables.”
Possible alternative: “Vegetables are nutritious, and some of them even taste good.”

Will
“You will like this.”
Possible alternative: “I hope you like this.”

Ought
“Polly ought to try a new hair style.”
Possible alternative: “I wonder if Polly likes any of the new hair styles.”

Can
This verb sounds like the writer/speaker is granting permission–little better than the commanding tone.
“You can come with.”
Possible alternative: “We would like for you to come with.”

May
Like “can”, this verb also tends to sound like a parent voice granting permission.
“Yes you may.”
Possible alternative: “Please do.”

Shall
“You shall not pass!”
Possible alternative: “Please consider an alternate route!”

Thanks to www.grammar.net for the infographic

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