The modal verbs are can, could, may, might, mustshall, should, will and would.

The modals are used to do things like talking about ability, asking permission making requests, and so on.


We use can to talk about someone’s skill or general abilities:

She can speak several languages.
He can swim like a fish.
They can’t dance very well.

We use can to talk about the ability to do something at a given time in the present or future:

You can make a lot of money if you are lucky.
Help. I can’t breathe.
They can run but they can’t hide.

We use could to talk about past time:

She could speak several languages.
They couldn’t dance very well.

We use could have to say that someone had the ability/opportunity to do something, but did not do it:

She could have learned Swahili, but she didn’t have time.
I could have danced all night [but didn't].


We use can to ask for permission to do something:

Can I ask a question, please?
Can we go home now?

could is more formal and polite than can:

Could I ask a question please?
Could we go home now?

may is another more formal and polite way of asking for permission:

May I ask a question please?
May we go home now?

We use can to give permission:

You can go home now if you like.
You can borrow my pen if you like.

may is a more formal and polite way of giving permission:

You may go home now, if you like.

We use can to say that someone has permission to do something:

We can go out whenever we want.
Students can travel free.

may is a more formal and polite way of saying that someone has permission:

Students may travel free.

Instructions and requests:

We use could you and would you as polite ways of telling or asking someone to do something:

Could you take a message please?
Would you carry this for me please?
Could I have my bill please?

can and will are less polite:

Can you take a message please?
Will you carry this for me please?

Suggestions and advice:

We use should to make suggestions and give advice:

You should send an email.
We should go by train.

We use could to make suggestions:

We could meet at the weekend.
You could eat out tonight.

We use conditionals to give advice:

Dan will help you if you ask him.

Past tenses are more polite:

Dan would help you if you asked him.

Offers and invitations:

We use can I… and to make offers:

Can I help you?
Can I do that for you?

We can also use shall I …

Shall I help you with that?
Shall I call you on your mobile?

We sometime say I can ... or I could ... or I’ll (I will) ... to make an offer:

I can do that for you if you like.
I can give you a lift to the station.
I’ll do that for you if you like.
I’ll give you a lift to the station.

We use would you like (to) ... for invitations:

Would you like to come round tomorrow?
Would you like another drink?

We use you must or we must for a very polite invitation:

You must come round and see us.
We must meet again soon.

Obligation and necessity

We use must to say that it is necessary to do something:

You must stop at a red light.
Everyone must bring something to eat.
You can wear what you like, but you must look neat and tidy.
I’m sorry, but you mustn’t make a noise in here.

We use had to for this if we are talking about the past:

Everyone had to bring something to eat.
We could wear what we liked, but we had to look neat and tidy.




Hi valentintoma,

may is a bit more formal than could, and some say that it is more correct, but the fact is that most people use could (or can) to ask for permission. One difference between may and could is that could is only used to ask for permission - not to give or refuse it. When giving or refusing permission, you should use can or may. Below is an example - note the two forms that are crossed out (to indicate that they are not correct).

May I borrow your car?  Could I borrow your car?    Can I borrow your car?
   - Yes, you could.    Yes, you can.   Yes, you may.
   - No, you couldn't.   No, you can't.   No, you may not.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi.sorry I have a question too like this. asking permission It's difficult for me too useing may and question is which is true "may I come in" or "can I come in" actually I use the first but I heard the second form from some kind of text.thanks a lot

Hi Diana,

Both 'may' and 'can' are acceptable in polite requests. 'May' is a little more tentative/polite, I would say.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Could interpret  "can" and "could" , please.
Is "could"  the past form of "can" and do we  use "could"  as "can" in the past?
Thank you!

Hello kristina26,

'Can' and 'could' are examples of modal verbs and they have many uses and meanings. In some contexts, 'could' is the past form of 'can', such as when talking about ability:

(present) I can swim / I can't swim.

(past) When I was a child, I could swim / I couldn't swim.

However, the range of meanings is much broader than this, and the relationship between 'can' and 'could' much more complex.  For example, both forms can be used in requests, with 'could' being a more polite form:

Can I have a glass of water, please?

Could I have a glass of water, please?

This page, and the other pages relating to modal verbs preceding and following it, show the various meanings of 'can' and 'could' (and other modal verbs), so my advice to you is to work through these pages and I'm sure that will help to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teacher,
I have a question about usage of could as future permission.I have found this sentence in one grammar tutorial." Could we apply for a loan again after we've found a guarantor?"-  How this sentence is right because they use present perfect tense for future permission.


The present perfect in this sentence is in a dependent clause, and the use of some tenses is different in these clauses.  We could not say 'we've found a guarantor' with future meaning by itself; however if it is part of a dependent clause then it can have future meaning.  Following 'after' in this sentence you can use the present perfect (we've found) or the present simple (we find) with very similar meaning - the present perfect emphasises that the action is completed before the other action in the sentence (applying).

Here the dependent clause is introduced by 'after', but you can find tenses used like this with similar dependent clauses introduced by other words such as when, as soon as and until.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

True Peter. That's what I know concerning dependent clause, either present perfect or present simple has similar meaning. Thank you :)

Hi Team
First of all I would like to tell you, You guys are doing excellent job, this is very helpfully to improve our English skills.
I have a question for you guys could you help me to clear this?
I used to watch many people using " He is gone and  He is excited"
I know that gone and 'ed' should be used for past tense.
Is that right to use "is " after past tense, If so, could give a more examples and 
tell me what kind of sentence is this?

Hi Mohammed Anas,
Thanks for your kind words - it's always great to hear that people like LearnEnglish.
In the sentence you mention, "He is gone and he is excited", both gone and excited are working as adjectives that come after the verb be. "He is gone" is another way of saying "he is not here now".
It's true that gone is the past participle of go, but if it were working as a verb here, it would be "he has gone" instead of "he is gone". Past participles are often used as adjectives. You can see more examples on our -ed and -ing adjectives page.
I hope this helps you understand. If it's still not clear, please ask again.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team