English Tips

Modal Verbs

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These are the Modal verbs:

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • will
  • would
  • must
  • shall
  • should
  • ought to

They are different from other verbs because:
  1. They don't use an 's' for the third person singular (e.g. She can dance very well).
  2. They make questions by inversion ('you can visit' becomes 'can you visit?').
  3. They are followed directly by the infinitive of another verb (without 'to').
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Why do we use them?

1) Probability:

First, they can be used when we want to say how sure we are that something happened / is happening / will happen. We often call these 'modals of deduction' or 'speculation' or 'certainty' or 'probability'.

For example:

  • It's snowing, so it must be very cold outside.
  • I don't know where John is. He could have missed the train.
  • This bill can't be right. £200 for two cups of coffee!

2) Ability

We use 'can' and 'could' to talk about a skill or ability.

For example:
  • She can speak six languages.
  • My grandfather could play golf very well.
  • I can't drive.

3) Obligation and Advice

We can use verbs such as 'must' or 'should' to say when something is necessary or unnecessary, or to give advice.

For example:
  • Children must do their homework.
  • We have to wear a uniform at work.
  • You should stop smoking.

4) Permission

We can use verbs such as 'can', 'could' and 'may' to ask for and give permission. We also use modal verbs to say something is not allowed.

For example:
  • Could I leave early today, please?
  • You may not use the car tonight.
  • Can we swim in the lake?

5) Habits

We can use 'will' and 'would' to talk about habits or things we usually do, or did in the past.

For example:
  • When I lived in Italy, we would often eat in the restaurant next to my flat.
  • John will always be late!
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English Modal Verbs - Introduction to Modal Verbs
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Modal verbs of probability | English grammar

Who am I?

Hi! I am Aline Medeiros. I am English teacher and I hope you enjoy the tips!