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Let's say you are hypothesizing. And you say:

I must have great accuracy in English, and if I don't, all the efforts I put in would/could/may just go to waste.

In this sentence, I know would is possible, but so are could and may because it is more likely to happen. I know how to use modals, but in this situation, it really winds me up!

Could you tell me if all are equally possible, or is there a best modal that should be used?

  • I am not sure what you are asking? I have made edits please reject if I got it wrong. – WendyG Jun 13 '18 at 9:20
  • The sentence doesn't make much sense, semantically. It's not clear how inaccuracy would result in a waste of effort. Please take some of this cake home with you. We can't finish it ourselves, and if you don't take it, it would just go to waste. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 13 '18 at 20:53
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Any of those is possible to use and you're correct that they mean different things.

The best modal is the one you really think expresses the probability that the efforts will go to waste. There's not one that expresses all three possibilities at once. You have to make a decision between the three.

You could also write the sentence to show that you don't know what the probability is like this:

I must have great accuracy in English, and if I don't, all the efforts I make have some unknown probability of going to waste.

or

I must have great accuracy in English, and if I don't, all the efforts I make have some likelihood of going to waste.

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Actually, will, can, or may seem preferable to me than the past forms would, could, or might, but that might just be a preference for parallel tenses (** must** has no past form) as a matter of personal style.

Among will, can, and may, they do not mean exactly the same thing. Use of will implies a certainty of the result whereas may implies the possibility of the result. Again this may be just a personal preference but can to me should be avoided when trying to indicate probability.

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