Conversational Structures

Must to express inference or probability

Read the following sentences.

  • She must be about thirty years old.
  • You must have been mad to do such a thing.

In the examples given above, must does not express compulsion or obligation, but inference.

  • suppose he is the oldest man in the village. (= He must be the oldest man in the village.)
  • think she is older than her husband. (= She must be older than her husband.)
  • suppose he is mistaken. (= He must be mistaken.)
  • Surely he is a fool to behave like that. (= He must be a fool to behave like that.)

Can be + adjective

Consider the sentence given below.

He is not always annoying, but occasionally he is.

The same idea can be expressed using the structure can be + adjective.

  • He can be very annoying.
  • She is not always obstinate, but sometimes she is.
  • She could be very obstinate.
  • Tom is not always polite, but sometimes he is.
  • Tom could be polite.
  • The teacher is at times very stern.
  • The teacher can be very stern.
  • It is sometimes very wet here in July.
  • It can be very wet here in July.

Plenty of, a lot of, a great deal of, much, many

Longer phrases like plenty of, a lot of, a great deal of, a long way and a long way off are generally preferred in affirmative sentences. Shorter forms like many, much, far and far off are preferred in negatives and questions.

  • I have a lot of work to do.
  • Do you have much work to do?
  • No, I don’t have much work to do.
  • Plenty of people wish to buy cars.
  • Are there many people who want cars?
  • Yes, but there aren’t many who can afford them. (NOT There aren’t plenty of people who can afford them.)
  • There is a great deal of controversy about the project.
  • Is there much controversy about it?
  • There isn’t much controversy about it.
  • The sea is a long way off.
  • Is the sea far off?
  • No, it isn’t far off.

Many and far may be occasionally used in the affirmative, but much is almost never used in that way. The longer forms are almost never used in the negative and occasionally used in questions.

Do a lot of + gerund

This structure is used to emphasize the frequency with which we perform an action.

  • He does a lot of writing.
  • He doesn’t do much writing.
  • I used to do a lot of writing.
  • I have no time to do much gardening these days.
  • My job requires me to do a lot of travelling.
  • I hate having to do much travelling.
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Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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