1

When I use the structure so that, must I always use the modals can / could / won't / wouldn't? Check the numbers 2, 4 below.

1) I wore warm clothes so that I wouldn't be cold.

2*) I wore warm clothes so that I am/was not cold.

3) Please arrive early so that we can start our meeting on time.

4*) Please arrive early so that we start our meeting on time.

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No, you don't have to use modals, though they are very common following so that. We use modals with so that because we are expressing the intended outcome (which may or may not have been the actual outcome).

However, here are a few examples of sentences that don't require modals, so hopefully you can see how natural they also look.

I put the rest in the fridge so that it doesn't go to waste.

Pay him a compliment so that he gives you one back.

Duck so that they don't see us!

*Note that each of the above examples needs little modification to also be able to take a modal, which demonstrates that though the greater use of so that is with modals, we can still use the phrase without them.

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  • what do you think of my examples without modals?
    – Graduate
    Feb 15 '14 at 1:42
  • They sound perfect as they are with the modals. The first sentence works fine without, but the second one sounds false when you don't use a modal. The only way around it is to say "Please arrive early so that we are able to start our meeting on time".
    – JMB
    Feb 15 '14 at 23:14

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