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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




I have learned a rule that states - Can refers to a theoretical possibility while may refers to future possibility.
Such as...
1.I think you can win the competition.
2.There can be cold at night so take your jacket.

May I tell... I think you may win competition.

What is the difference.
Thanks in advance.

Hello AminulIslam.,

In some contexts the difference between can and may is very slight. For example:

I think you can win the competition. [it is possible]

I think you can win the competition. [there is a chance of this]


The first sentence could mean 'it is possible because you are allowed to enter', a different meaning to the second sentence. But it could also mean 'it is possible because you are good enough', which is very similar to the second sentence. The context is key here.


The other sentence is not correct as it stands. We would say this:

It can be cold at night so take your jacket. [low temperatures are possible]

It may be cold at night so take your jacket. [there is a chance of low temperatures]



The LearnEnglish Team

You may know this.
You must know this.
I think these sentences may have different meanings depanding on the context can't they ?

In one context these sentense can mean that a person is saying on logical conclusions or bases that the other person probably knows this.

While in the other one they can mean that a person is suggesting or giving advice to the other person that they should definately know this or they can or could know it if they want to.

and I think sometimes to erase out this confussion we say something like "you may be aware of this or you must be knowing this" as these sentences have an only particuler meaning.

what is your take on this ?

Hi SonuKumar

Yes, the context is key to understanding these sentences. English modal verbs (like 'may' and 'must') are used to mean different things in different contexts and so without knowing the context for these two statements, I can't say for sure what they mean. The sentence with 'must', for example, can mean 'You really need to know this' or 'I can't believe that you don't know this' (meaning I think you do know it).

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

As 'could' and 'might' are said to be the weak or tentative versions of 'can' and 'may' respectively, is it correct to use 'would' in the same sense for 'will'?


Hello Adya's

Modal verbs in English are used in so many different ways that it's difficult for a statement like the one you mention to be accurate in all circumstances. Could you give a specific example? We could help you out with a specific case, but I'm hesitant to make any generalisations for fear of missing something out.

All the best

The LearnEnglish Team


Pls I Need More Clarity On This Rule Of Auxiliary Verb I Came Across While Studying: Auxiliary Verbs In Simple Present Tense Forms Are Followed By Verbs In Past Participial Forms. For Example:
1) I Am Done With The Assignment.
2) I Have Finished Cooking.

I Discovered That This Rule Is Unequally Yoked With These Examples:
1) I Do Known Him.
2) I Can Sung.

Pls Explain.

The correct rule goes like this: Auxiliary verbs in PRESENT PERFECT tense form are followed by verbs in past participle. Example:

I have eaten
She has seen
You have known.

Hi Cijo,

That rule is not correct. In 1, although 'done' is formed from the past participle, it is an adjective in this case. In 2, 'have done' is a present perfect verb. The other two forms you mention are not correct, I'm afraid.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Can you tell me if these two sentenses correct?
- Children have to greet their teachers.
- All children are to gather in the school hall at once!

In these sentences I compare two modal verbs have to and be to. As the book says the first one means - customary obligation, the general rule and the second one means an order. Are they grammatically and lexically correct?