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How to Modalize a Sentence in Creative Writing

This tutorial will teach you how to modalize a sentence in creative writing, or how to turn a simple sentence into a question or command. A sentence can be modalized by adding phrases like ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘may’, ‘must’, and ‘should’ into the sentence. This will make the sentence into a question, or give it a more formal tone.

Let’s get started.

Learn The Rules

The first step in modalizing a sentence is to learn the rules. There are six simple rules that you should know:

1. Add ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘may’, ‘must’, and ‘should’ to the beginning of the sentence.

2. Add ‘not’ at the end of the sentence.

3. Add ‘to’ before the infinitive.

4. Add ‘that’ after ‘who’ and ‘which’ when describing people or things.

5. When you’re writing a question, you should use the present tense.

6. When you’re writing a statement, you should use the present simple.

Once you know the rules, you can start applying them to your sentences. Let’s look at an example.

Example 1:

‘Can you pass me the salt?’ is a simple sentence, with ‘can’ in the beginning, and the verb ‘pass’ in the end. In English, we don’t use ‘can’ to ask questions, so this sentence has a specific meaning. When someone asks this question, they usually mean that the person being asked should do something for them. For example, ‘Can you pass me the salt? I don’t see any peppers in the kitchen.’ This is different from saying ‘Can you pass me the salt? I need it to make my food taste better.’ The second version is a statement, while the first one is a question. You learned the rules, so you know how to change this into a question.

Example 2:

‘He could pass for an angel’ is a short but sweet sentence. ‘Pass’ is here in the beginning, and it’s a verb that means ‘to look like something or someone’, so in this case, it means that this man could look like an angel. Since we don’t normally use ‘could’ in questions, it makes this sentence a statement. Adding ‘for real’ at the end doesn’t change the meaning much, but it gives it a little twist.

Example 3:

‘May I ask you a question, ma’am?’ is another short and sweet sentence. ‘May’ is a polite request, so it’s appropriate to say this to a lovely lady like this. When you use ‘may’, always add ‘ma’am’ before the last name of the person you’re talking to. ‘Question’ is a form of words that mean ‘to ask’, ‘to want to ask’, or ‘to wonder’. ‘Asking’ is a form of words that means ‘to ask’, ‘to want to ask’, or ‘to wonder’. So, in this case, you’re questioning this lady about something. But, if she didn’t want to answer your question, she could say ‘No, not at the moment’, or ‘I’m not sure’, and end the conversation. 

Example 4:

This question mark is a bit longer than the others, but it has a similar meaning: ‘What’s brown and sticky?’ The answer to this question is very sticky and very brown – a combination that you might not want to miss, since it’s so delicious. You can use ‘sticky’ to describe something that is attached to something else and won’t come off easily, and you can use ‘brown’ to describe an item that is of a dark color. Together, they create a question that is a bit more specific.

Example 5:

In ‘What time do you call this?’ the speaker is asking a question about what time it is, but they’re also describing something – in this case, how big the television is. If someone says ‘This television is huge!’, you would normally expect them to say ‘It is?’ and then continue with ‘Yes, it’s huge!’ However, in this case, they are stopping at ‘This television is huge!’ The sentence ‘What time do you call this?’ is composed of two independent clauses – the first one, which is a question, and the second one, which is a descriptive statement. These two clauses are made more independent of each other by adding ‘do you call this’ between them.

Example 6:

Let’s end this article with a short but sweet poem that uses modalized sentences:

To Be Or Not To Be

A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet,

But perhaps that’s the trouble when you call it –

‘A rose’? It just means any old flower.

What if we called it a ‘rude health warning’?

Or maybe a ‘lovely basket’?

How about a ‘wonderful surprise’

Or a ‘great opportunity’

– any name but ‘rose’.

This last line of the poem is a rhetorical question – it asks the reader to consider what would happen if they called the flower something else. Most people would still know what it means, but it would no longer be attached to that specific flower, so it wouldn’t hurt as much if the name changed a little.

Hopefully, you now appreciate how important it can be to change a few words around in a sentence to make it into a question or command. This can really enhance the meaning and impact of your work. For example, imagine how much more powerful this poem would be if it was stated as a question:

Do You Want To Build A Wall Or Do You Want To Play In The Sand?

Your choice. Of course, you have a choice. You can either build a wall to keep the sand out, or you can play in the sand, but you’ll have to take your chances with the wind and the weather. This is a question that could go either way – you might end up either building a wall, or you might end up playing in the sand. The choice is yours.