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Double modals

by Michael Swan

A sample entry from Grammar ain’t as hard as what you think, Didcot Academic Press 2005

double modals: you might better revise your ideas

Double modals are used in many varieties of spoken English, The most common are: might could, might should, might ought to, should ought to.


  • We might could get tickets for tomorrow night.
  • We might should mosey down and see old Polly.
  • You might ought to check the oil.
  • Somebody should ought to do something about that kid.
Exercise 1. Put the beginnings and ends together.
beginnings ends
1. Maybe we might ought to A. fry up some of that pork after the Bible meeting.
2. We might could B. rescue granpaw from the burning whiskey still.
3. You might should C. smoke that stuff while you’re playing poker
4. You shouldn’t ought to D. put your panties back on before the Minister gets here.

Note also the structures might better (like had better, but more polite) and had ought to.

Exercise 2. Put in words from the box with might better or had ought to.

be        do        put        untie
  1. You kids .......... Aunt Mildred.
  2. The government .......... something about them pointy-headed perverted red commie homosexual university professors.
  3. Do you think we .......... the alligator back?
  4. You .......... more careful who you shoot.

Like other modals, these structures can be followed by a perfect infinitive.


  • We might should have opened the gate before we druv out.
  • I shouldn’t ought to have done that.

Exercise 3. Make sentences with might should have.

  1. Lucille totaled the pickup. (stop at the red light)
  2. BJ got et by a bear. (read the notice)
  3. Donny had a real bad trip. (buy better stuff)
  4. Mary-Lou’s pregnant again. (get him to write down his name)

Sentences with a perfect progressive passive infinitive are uncommon.


  • I thought the hogs might ought to have been being fed, but I wasn’t sure.