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

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


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)


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.


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.




Please, can someone tell me which one of these is correct:
1) May John keep doing the task....
2) May John keeps doing the task...

Hello Adediran,

The first sentence is correct, though it is not a particularly natural or likely sentence.

After modal verbs such as 'may' we use the base form of the verb, without the third-person 's'.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

can anyone please explain the rules of having .

I mean which one will be right

I am doing fun
I am having fun

Hello habib047,

I'd encourage you to look up 'fun' in the dictionary – see the Search box on the lower right. 'do' does not collocate (go with) 'fun', but 'have fun' is a common phrase, as you'll see in the dictionary.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teachers. I have a question for you if you don't mind. Please can someone say why in this sentence the 'would' instead of 'would have'?
I thought back to our childhood, when she and I would find ourselves walking ...

Hello rewand,

This is 'would' used to describe past habits. For example, I could say 'When I was a child, I would go for long walks every morning'.

'Would have' here would describe an unreal past - something the speaker would have done (if it had been possible).

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Here is two confusing sentence...
1. If we don’t hurry we could be late.
>>>Here could be is used to shows something is possible in future.
2. It could be very cold in winter.
>>>Here could be is used to describe past. how??

Hello praixx,

In 2, 'could be' seems to be expressing a possible future, just as it did in 1.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I'm a little confused about some forms of modal verbs: you say that we use the negative "couldn't" to show that something was impossible, however, some books say that for impossibility in the past we should use "can't have" or "couldn't have" (for ex. Sarah hasn't contacted me. She can't have got my message.) So, where's the truth? Thank you a lot

Hello elena24,

You are confusing two different uses here. The first is the modal 'couldn't', which can describe past impossibility:

He couldn't swim when he was six.

I couldn't stop playing the game.

We cannot substitute 'can't have' here.

The second form is the perfect modal 'can't have', which is used when we are deducing somether from evidence. It shows our belief or inference about a situation, not a fact about the past. For example, in your sentence above the speaking is deducing that Sarah can't have got the message because she has not been in touch - a logical deduction from evidence. In this use both 'couldn't have' and 'can't have' are possible.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team