Modal verbs


The modal verbs are:

can could
may might
shall should
will would

We use modal verbs to show if we believe something is certain, probable or possible (or not). We also use modals to do things like talking about ability, asking permission making requests and offers, and so on.


Hi. I have a question regarding verb tenses in English. On my TEFL course we were taught there are strictly 12 tenses. But no mention was made of 'used to...' as in "I used to play the piano". I remember from my days studying French that this is termed the Imperfect tense [in that language] - do we not class this as an independent tense? Is it considered a modal verb construct? Would really appreciate clarity on this point, as I have searched online but cannot find a satisfactory summary of the point. Thanks for any help guys!

Hello William,

The number of tenses in English is an issue that has no easy answer, I'm afraid. There are many, including Dave Willis, the author of our grammar reference, who argue that there are only two tenses in English, though it's true that we often speak of 12. In neither case is 'used + infinitive' included as an independent tense. We concentrate on helping people learn English here so I can't go into great detail on this, but you might find the wikipedia entry on modal auxiliary verbs useful. I'd also recommend you take a look at TeachingEnglish, where there is also a forum in which you can ask about topics such as this one.

Good luck!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello ananthan56,

Auxiliary verbs are 'helper verbs' which are used to add functional or grammatical meaning, such as voice, tense, modality and so on.

Modal verbs are one kind of auxiliary verb. They add information about probability, ability, permission and obligation.

You can find a list of all the auxiliary verbs in English on this page.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

please may i know the differences between the following sentences
1- i used to be ignored
2- i used to being ignored
3- i am used to be ignored
4- i am used to being ignored

Hello hamadbaghdadi,

Sentences 2 and 3 are not correct. In sentence 1, 'used to' is used to refer to a regular action in the past that is no longer true. In sentence 4, 'be used to' is used to refer to something you are accustomed to. These two constructions are explained on our ‘used to + infinitive’ and ‘be/get used to’ page, which I'd encourage you to read for more information.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

thanks a million Kirk
I have two more question in field of "be used to"

1.Is it possible to use passive voice in this expression?and is it common?
for example,
I am not used to being ignored. using "be able to" with "be used to" possible and common in English?
for example,
I am used to being able to tolerate others behaviors.

I DO appreciative what you are doing for students on this website.

Hello misam,

The answer to both of those questions is 'yes'. Your examples are absolutely fine, apart from 'behaviours' in the second example - this should be 'behaviour' as it is an uncountable noun.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter and Kirk

I have two questions.
would you please tell me the difference between these to sentences?and is the second sentence common in English?
I could play piano.
I used to be able to play piano.
is "used to" used is passive voice ?and is this structure common in English?
children used to be neglected.

like always I am grateful for all of your effort.