The Excuse Song (modal verbs)

When people have to refuse to do something that you want them to do, they will use a modal or auxiliary verb.

That’s because modals are used to express the attitude of the speaker at that particular moment. Think of it. “I might.” “I can’t.” “I would if I could.” Modals are key to mastering the nuances of English. (Actually, in the first example from the song, the singer is going to use modal verbs to make an excuse to do something–rather than avoid something.)

These songs help you analyze modality further.

lame excuse = a bad excuse, or one that’s difficult to believe

Modal/auxiliary verbs in English often work in pairs. Think of…

I can but I won’t | I should but I can’t.

I shouldn’t but I will | I would but I can’t.

I can and I will.

In this song, we get lame excuses using multiple modal verbs.

Provide students with the fill-in-the-blank activity (below) before listening to the song. See if they can find pairs of modal verbs that will work. Give them these to choose from:


can, could, will, should, had better (or just “better”), would rather, supposed to


Note: negative forms are needed sometimes.

1.  “These cookies are wonderful, Bill.   I __________ have another but I __________.”

2.  “It __________ be better if we __________ take things slow.  So call me in September. Listen, I gotta go!”

3.  I know I __________ visit I really want to.  But I __________ go to the library, I’ve got a book overdue

4.  I __________ if I __________ , but I __________ . I’m busy all day. I’m __________ visit my aunt.

 vocalists:  Steve, Kristin, and Phil Venuti
After the listening task, ask students to imagine the scene or scenario in which the speakers might say these things. Perhaps they can write a paragraph leading up to each of these excuses.

Complete Lyric
1.  “These cookies are wonderful, Bill. I shouldn’t have another but I will.”

2. “It might be better if we could take things slow So call me in September. Listen, I gotta go!”

3. “I know I should visit I really want to. But I better go to the library, I’ve got a book overdue.”

4.  “I would if I could, but I can’t.  I’m busy all day—I’m supposed to visit my aunt. But I don’t have an aunt.  She’s dead.”