The modal verbs are can, could, may, might, shall, 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 to morrow?
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 Sir,
Im confused about use of could, sometimes it use for past tense and sometimes it use for present tense like u have used for present tense in these examples -
1- Could I ask a question please?
2-Could we go home now?

Sir, Please tell me how to change these two sentences in past with use of could. And also clarify the use of could in present and past tense.

Hi singh singh,

These are both requests, and to make them requests in the past we would use a perfect modal - 'could have':

Could I have asked a question (then)?

Could we have gone home then?

However, the present and past forms depend on the meaning for which 'could' is used. The examples above are requests and there are similar past forms for permission, but if we talk about ability then we have different forms for present and past:

I can swim. (present)

I could swim. (past)


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot Sir !


I would like to know if its following sentence is correct?
'With pleasure, I would to confirm my arrival day' .Thanks in Advance

Hello Josef,

That sentence is intelligible, but not completely grammatical. Perhaps 'I would like to confirm the day of my arrival'. You could use 'with pleasure', but please note that it's really quite formal, so in most contexts 'would like to' is polite enough.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

my sister used to live next door
is it stative?

Hello chris kim,

No, 'used to live' is not stative. You can see our pages on stative verbs and 'used to' for explanations of these forms.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Is the live (verb) stative verb?

Hello chris kim,

This depends on the context in which it is used. Many verbs can be used in different ways, and this affects their meaning and how they are used. Perhaps you can provide us with an example sentence and we'll be happy to comment on it.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team