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




Hello! I have a question regarding some examples with modal verbs if you could help me.
Examples: 1.They took some extra blankets în case they should get cold.
2.It's essential that everyone should arrive on time.
3.They were going to call this morning, so he should know about the job by now.
Why can't we put, in all the sentences,'would' instead of 'should'?

Hi Carmen,

There structures in these three sentences are different. In 1, 'in case' is not followed by 'would', but rather by a past tense verb. In this case, the verb should be in the past simple, since this sentence refers to the past. I can see how 'would' would seem to make sense here, as it speaks about a hypothetical situation, but 'would' isn't used in a clause beginning with 'in case'.

In 2, 'It's essential that' begins a clause that speaks of necessity. Although 'should' is not exactly wrong here, a subjunctive form such as 'arrive' is more common. 'would' isn't used here.

In 3, 'should' indicates what we expect to communicate probability. 'would' can be used to indicate probability in some cases, but this form is a little unusual and is not usually used in one clause connected to another clause.

I hope that helps you.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the prompt response. As regards the use of 'would' to refer to future events by some publications, I would have sent you the snapshots/screenshots of such usages so that you could appreciate the context of the use. But posting pictures in response box is not possible on your site.

I think, this is probably due to the use of 'could' and 'might' as tentative versions of 'can' and 'may' respectively that 'would' is used in the same vein as a weak version of 'will' and used for real future references. You can throw better light on it. Eager to hear from you on this topic.


Hi Adya's,

The examples you provided are inconsistent in my opinion. As you mention, the problem is the use of would for real or certain future events. There needs to be an explicit or implied qualification of some kind to make the event unlikely or uncertain.

In your examples we have the opposite. We have decided introduces a decision which has been taken and is, therefore, necessarily real; will is needed here, not would. In the second example the phrase if you buy today makes it clear that a real or likely situation is in mind and so would is inconsistent.

I can't really think of a context in which would would be appropriate here, and I think it is far more likely that these are simply inaccurate sentences and that the newspapers in which they were published would benefit from better proofreaders!



The LearnEnglish Team

This question has been baffling me for some time. Even in standard newspapers I find frequent use of 'would' to refer to future events. There is no indirect speech reporting with a past tense reporting verb, yet 'would' is used to describe future events! For example, "We have decided that we would not attend the meeting". Or like, "If you buy today, we would give you a good discount".

Is it correct to do so? Please respond and clarify my doubts.


Hello Adya's,

Those do not look like standard sentences to me. I can't comment on their use because I don't know the source or context but I would not say that those are correct examples.

Remember that people do not always speak in fully grammatical forms. We make mistakes or change our minds in the process of expressing ourselves. This may be the issue if these are direct quotations from people.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, please help me.
Look at this sentence,,
You need not have gone there.
Here 'need' is use as a modal auxiliary or regular verb!

Hello Learner Kid,

This is an example of the modal use of 'need'. A test is to try to replace the word with other modal verbs:

You need not have gone there.

You could not have gone there.

You should not have gone there.



The LearnEnglish Team

Sir, It has to be the same, something or whatever.
It should be the same, something or whatever.
I think the first one says there's obligation that it has or is to be the same.
The second one says It will probably be the same. it shows the probability and a reason to believe. Right ?

Hello SonuKumar,

As you know, modal verbs are very much context dependent in terms of meaning so it's not really possible to give an answer to this question without guessing what the context might be. In general, 'has to' suggests that something is necessary, required or obligatory while 'should' could suggest a preference or an expectation.



The LearnEnglish Team