Back in the day, when I was your age, I had to … walk to school for two hours in winter, fight off bears to get to the library or print newspapers to afford lunch, blah… blah… We’ve all heard similar exaggerated statements from our parents or other older relatives. Let’s learn how to reminisce about “the good old days” using modal verbs in the past.
For past obligation, we use had to, needed (to):
I had to wake up at six to drive my kids to school. Thank god they’ve graduated recently!
A lack of past obligation: didn’t have to, didn’t need (to), needn’t have
I didn’t have to send so many emails in the past.
Past ability: could/couldn’t
When I was your age, I could easily work four jobs and cook dinner every day!
Could/couldn’t also refers to past permission:
When I was a teenager, I couldn’t go out in the evening. (I wasn’t allowed to)
Could have/couldn’t have + V3/ed show unwillingness to do something. It may imply criticism.
James could have invited Emily to the party. I don’t know why he didn’t.
Unwillingness can also be shown with would:
I wanted to leave the party because a drunk girl wouldn’t stop beatboxing.
Should have/shouldn’t have + V3/ed is used to criticise somebody’s actions.
Well, I think you shouldn’t have called your ex.
Don’t confuse it with the polite expression shouldn’t have. We use the latter when receiving a gift or some sort of favour.
And this one's for you Bonny. I’ve made it myself! – Oh dear! You shouldn’t have!
Possibility about the past: could have + V3/ed, may/might (not) have + V3/ed
Check their website. The band might have posted the tour dates.
Certainty about the past: must have + V3/ed, can’t/couldn’t have + V3/ed
Check your mail! You must have received the letter by now! I’m sure of it!
Might have and would have sometimes refer to past events that didn’t actually happen.
That was dangerous! You might have fallen off that tree!
Tom would have proposed to Anne, but he didn’t want to move too fast.
To talk about an action that happened but wasn’t necessary, we use needn’t have + V3/ed:
You needn’t have called the ambulance. I’m fine. (You called the ambulance)
Don’t confuse needn’t have + V3/ed with didn’t have to/didn’t need to.
We didn’t have to call the ambulance. (So we didn’t)
Now you know how to talk about “the good old days”. Don’t forget to experience them first.