You are here

Modal verbs

Level: beginner

The modal verbs are: 



We use modals to show if we believe something is certain, possible or impossible:

My keys must be in the car.
It might rain tomorrow.
That can't be Peter's coat. It's too small.

We also use them to do things like talk about ability, ask permission, and make requests and offers:

I can't swim.
May I ask a question?
Could I have some tea, please?
Would you like some help?

Modal verbs




How can i use gerund form and to infinitive with go
I found out in cambridge dictionary that go is used with ing
when we speak about general activities that involve movement
If the activities have a clear beginning and end, then go + to-infinitive is used
I also found out on another dictionary that go gurend used with activities and we donnot use go to inf with activities
In another dictionary we use go to inf to move ot travel place for a particular purpose and they suggest we use shopping or fishing or dancing with go
But why we do use shopping with go ?and not say go to shop or go to dance ot go to watch or go watching
can you explain As for me, they are the same, and I do not understand what these dictionaries mean. How do I know to differentiate between them and use them in a correct way

Hi fdrewaserera,

Most of the time when we talk about activities we use [go + verbing]:

I go swimming every Saturday.

I have to go shopping later because we've got nothing to eat!


It is possible to use [go + to verb] but it generally has a meaning involving travelling to a place in order to perform an action:

I have to go to talk to him this afternoon. [=travel to where he is in order to have a chat]

Paul went to watch the film last night. [=travel to the cinema in order to watch the film]


Go to shop is not a phrase we use. However, you could say go to buy something:

Let's meet tomorrow morning and we'll go to buy some new shoes together.

Go shopping (for something) is much more likely, however.



The LearnEnglish Team

This is really interesting. Thanks.

Good day!

In this section, I`ve read that COULDN`T is the negative form of MUST.

In another source, it says CAN`T can also be a negative form of the same modal verb.

May I know the difference? When are COULDN`T and CAN`T used?

Thank you very much!

Hello Timmy Ferrer,

Modal verbs have multiple uses and there is no one-to-one correlation between them in terms of which modal is used to express the negative meaning of another verb. The opposite of must in one context might be can't; in another it might be mustn't; in another it might be don't have to.

If you want to check whether two modals have opposite meanings then we'll be happy to help, but you need to put the modals into sentences so we can see which use is relevant.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much for your reply.

How about these examples?

1. You mustn't wear casual clothes at work.
2. You can't wear casual clothes at work.
3. You don't have to wear casual clothes at work.

Thank you, once again, in advance!

Hello again Timmy,

It's important to distinguish between the grammatical negative, which is simply the addition of 'not' to the modal verb, and expression of the opposite meaning, which may be expressed by grammatical negation or may require a different modal verb. My answers below describe the most likely options for expressing the opposite meaning.

1. The opposite of mustn't wear (negative obligation) could be must wear (positive obligation) or don't have to wear (lack of obligation).

2. The opposite of can't wear (no permission or no ability) could be may wear (permission) or can wear (permission or ability).

3. See my answer to 1 above. You could also use have to wear here with a similar meaning to must wear.



The LearnEnglish Team

Candidates may not bring calculators into the examination room. - How is it different from "must not" or "shall not"?

And is there any difference between might, may, could when it comes to present/future possibility?

Hello Sunyoung1005,

You can express prohibition in various ways in English: may not, can not, are not allowed to, shall not, should not, must not can all express prohibition. There may be preferences of style or preferences dependent on particular contexts, but all are possible.


Could, might and may are all used to express present/future possibility and I don't think there are any distinctions between them.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! I have 3 questions:

Question 1) To make the statement “I’m no angel” true, it is neither not necessary nor sufficient that I should not be a member of the set of angels. ---- Why is the meaning of "should" here?

Question 2) If it rained last night the match will have been cancelled. ---- How is it different from "must"?

Question 3) According to a grammar book, to make confident predictions about the present based on our knowledge or experience, we use will/won’t: It is five o’clock. Janet will be in Paris now (the speaker believes it is true). ---- My question is whether I could we use “must” instead? Is there any difference in meaning?