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

The modals are used to show that we believe something is certain, probable or possible:

Possibility:

We use the modals could, might and may to show that something is possible in the future, but not certain:

They might come later. (= Perhaps/Maybe they will come later.)
They may come by car. (= Perhaps/Maybe they will come by car.)
If we don’t hurry we could be late. (= Perhaps/Maybe we will be late)

We use could have, might have and may have to show that something was possible now or at some time in the past:

It’s ten o’clock. They might have arrived now.
They could have arrived hours ago.

We use the modal can to make general statements about what is possible:

It can be very cold in winter. (= It is sometimes very cold in winter)
You can easily lose your way in the dark. (= People often lose their way in the dark)

We use the modal could as the past tense of can:

It could be very cold in winter. (= Sometimes it was very cold in winter.)
You could lose your way in the dark. (= People often lost their way in the dark)

Impossibility:

We use the negative can’t or cannot to show that something is impossible:

That can’t be true.
You cannot be serious.

We use couldn’t/could not to talk about the past:

We knew it could not be true.
He was obviously joking. He could not be serious.

Probability:

We use the modal must to show we are sure something to be true and we have reasons for our belief:

It’s getting dark. It must be quite late.
You haven’t eaten all day. You must be hungry.

We use must have for the past:

They hadn’t eaten all day. They must have been hungry.
You look happy. You must have heard the good news.

We use the modal should to suggest that something is true or will be true in the future, and to show you have reasons for your suggestion:

Ask Miranda. She should know.
It's nearly six o'clock. They should arrive soon.

We use should have to talk about the past:

It's nearly eleven o'clock. They should have arrived by now.

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

I had the same question, so thanks everyone!

Thanks a lot for the valuable answer to my question sir.
I have got another question that some of the people and websites consider "ought to" and "need to" as modal verbs. Are these indeed modal verbs sir?

Hell Vijay Soni,

These are examples of what are called 'semi-modals'. In some aspects they function as modals but in others they are more like 'normal' verbs. For example, modals are usually followed by the bare infinitive (without 'to'), but these verbs have 'to'. Modals do not have regular past forms but rather perfect forms (should > should have), whereas 'need to' has a past form 'needed to'. On the other hand, modals do not have a different third person form (I should > He should), and this is true of 'ought to' (I ought to > He ought to).

There are other examples of semi-modals, such as 'dare'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, teachers,
It’s ten o’clock. They might have arrived now.
Does this sentence suggest that it's a hypothetical situation? meaning that it was possible for them to arrive if they left ,but they didn't??
They could have arrived hours ago.
Does this sentence have two meanings?
The first is hypothetical like the previous sentence ,and the second is about expressing possibility of a past situation ?
I hope that my questions are clear.

Hello Inas,

In your first pair of sentences, the second sentence is hypothetical in one sense, i.e. it's possible they have arrived, but also possibly they haven't – we don't know. But this kind of hypothetical situation is a bit different from the hypothetical situations in, for example, third conditionals.

Regarding the other sentence, which two meanings do you have in mind? I'm afraid I'm not sure I understand what your questions are really about. If there's some specific context, it would be helpful to know that.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hi, Kirk,
Thanks for your reply.
They could have arrived hours ago.
I mean that if this sentence refers to a possibility of their arrival but in the past tense or it means that all the situation is hypothetical as they didn't go somewhere to arrive, but they could have arrived if they left.
I hope it's clearer now.
Inas

Hello Inas,

Thanks for clarifying that. Yes, it could be used in both of those ways.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Kirk,
It’s ten o’clock. They might have arrived now.
Could this sentence used in the same both ways??
Thanks,
Inas

Hello Inas,

You could use it in both ways, though if you wanted to communicate the hypothetical meaning, you'd have to clarify this in the context for this hypothetical meaning to come across.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

what is the difference between i might come and i might not come? when should i use might not?

Pages