Modal verbs

Level: beginner

The modal verbs are: 

can
may
must
shall
will
could
might

should
would

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

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Soumis par Mussorie le mar 04/05/2021 - 07:30

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Please explain the difference between the two sentences and provide some details about the structure and meaning. 1.Do you mind me being here while you’re working? 2.Do you mind my being here while you’re working?

Hello Mussorie,

There is no difference in meaning here. In this and similar constructions you can use either the object pronoun or the possessive adjective with the -ing form. Both are in common use and are acceptable but I think the form with the object pronoun (me) is more informal and less likely to be used in formal contexts.

 

You can read a brief discussion of the topic here:

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/515247/my-ing-possessive-form-ing-vs-me-ing-object-form-ing

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mussorie le lun 03/05/2021 - 12:35

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Please explain the difference. 1.I phoned at six o'clock. I knew he would have got home by then. 2.I phoned at six o'clock. I knew he had got home by then. And one more question regarding the usage of "will have" in the context of looking back from the present. 1.it is 6:00 clock. The match will have started. Why don't we use would instead of will here? Because it seems like the activity of the match started in the past from the present, then it should be would, right. Please explain to me the details of the question.

Hello Mussorie,

In both 1 and 2, you are reporting that the thing you imagined has been confirmed, but the verb form in 1 suggests that someone else was doubting your supposition.

In the other sentence, 'will have started' is used because the time reference point is the present time (6:00). We use 'would' to speak about the future from the perspective of the past, but the time reference point here is present. The beginning of the match in the past is suggested, but not stated.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nevı le jeu 22/04/2021 - 08:46

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Hi team, I want to know one more thing. I am trying to learn 'reduced adjective clauses' and I am confused about one thing. Can I reduce the clause containing modal verbs(can, will, may, might, etc.) ? İf it is yes, is it a common? I want to give an example sentences can I say The man who can fix your roof is my friend. =The man fixing your roof is my friend. Thank you and best wishes!

Hello Nevı,

No, I'm afraid that doesn't work. Normally the verb forms in reduced relative clauses replace non-modal verbs, usually in the present continuous, present simple or past simple.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par HEMAM le jeu 11/02/2021 - 06:36

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Hello I have a couple question please..! what the deference between these sentences: The car wouldn't start this morning The car didn't start this morning & also what is the exactly meaning of the sentence Reddington wouldn't tell us who abducted him THANK YOU SO MUCH..!!

Soumis par Kirk le ven 12/02/2021 - 10:46

En réponse à par HEMAM

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Hello Hemam,

'would' (and 'wouldn't') can be used to express unwillingness, in other words, the idea that someone or something doesn't want to do something. So in the first sentence, the idea is that the car didn't want to start. Most people don't actually believe that a car has desires, but sometimes when we feel we are unlucky, we speak this way to show the feeling of being unlucky. Other than this, these two sentences mean the same thing.

The sentence about Reddington could mean that we think he would never tell us this in any circumstance (here 'would' refers to hypothetical situations) or, if it's speaking about the past, it could mean that Redding refused to tell us. Which meaning it has depends on the context.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le sam 30/01/2021 - 11:09

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Hello. Which modal is correct to use in the following sentence? - He will help you if you ask him, but I am not sure. - He might help you if you ask him, but I am not sure. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Might is the correct option. Might means there is some uncertainty about whether he will help you or not, and we know that the speaker is uncertain since he/she says 'I am not sure'. 

Will doesn't fit here, because it means the speaker is certain.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le sam 23/01/2021 - 17:18

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Hello. Which modal is correct and formal in the following sentence? 1- You have to phone him now. It’s very urgent. 2- You must phone him now. It’s very urgent. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Both sentences look fine to me and I don't see any difference in formality. Without any context there's no way to say which would be more suitable.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nuro le lun 18/01/2021 - 19:34

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Hi teacher Peter, I have 2 questions about in this sentence. "Donations to charities can be offset against tax." 1)Could we add agent(like by sth.)?Could you give an example 2)Here,can we say directly "Donations to charities can offset against tax." If so,why we don't say in active voice obviously ?

Hi Nuro,

1) Yes, you could add a phrase with by to the sentence:

Donations to charities can be offset against tax by both private individuals and companies.

2) Active voice does not work here as the donations are the object of the verb offset. The person paying tax offsets the donations.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le sam 16/01/2021 - 18:15

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Hello. Please, could you tell me which modal is suitable in the following sentence. Why? - Do you know if we have to have a visa to visit North Korea? - Do you know if we must have a visa to visit North Korea? Thanks for your great efforts.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I think have to is the most likely choice here as the question is about an external rule rather than a self-imposed obligation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nuro le lun 04/01/2021 - 19:27

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Hi team I have questions, 1-"Tina gave me a shopping list so that I wouldn't forget anything." In this sentence, can we say " ...so that I didn't forget anything."? what's the difference 2 of them?

Hi Nuro,

Both forms are possible here. If you imagine what Tina said then both don't forget and won't forget are possible:

I'll give you a shopping list so you won't forget anything.

I'll give you a shopping list so you don't forget anything.

It may seem strange to use the present simple (don't forget) with future meaning here, especially when 'will' is used in the first clause, but there are certain contexts in which this is possible: in sentences like the one above and after the phrase 'in case', for example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nuro le mar 05/01/2021 - 09:45

En réponse à par Peter M.

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Thanks teacher, I have been thinking this strange situation that you mentioned for 4 days. I mean why we use simple present or modals instead of will to future events?Can you explain more detail? I am soo confused:(

Hello again Nuro,

It's actually a common feature of English. Remember that English does not have a grammatical future tense, but rather uses different grammatical structures to express future time: present forms (simple and continuous), modal verbs (including 'will'), going to and even past forms (for hypothetical futures).

 

You can read more about expressing future time on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/talking-about-the-future

 

And you can read about verbs used in time clauses here:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/verbs-in-time-clauses-and-if-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le sam 02/01/2021 - 10:55

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Hello. Can we use "hasn't got to" instead of "doesn't have to" to express lack of necessity? Also, in questions, can we use "has she got to" instead of "Does she have to"? Is the following sentence correct? - She hasn't got to do all this work today because she can do it next morning. Thank you

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Yes! It is possible to use hasn't got to for this meaning, and your sentence is correct. But, hasn't got to is less commonly used than doesn't have to.

In questions, that's right - we can use Has she got to ... instead of Does she have to ... .

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par meylin le jeu 17/12/2020 - 14:41

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Hello! I have a question, what happens with : make ( obligation) and must or musn't ( obligation) are the same? thanks!

Hello meylin,

They're similar but a bit different. You can read a bit more about 'must' and 'mustn't' in the Obligations section of our Suggestions and obligations page, but basically they express the idea that it is necessary to do something ('must', e.g. 'You must wear a mask on the bus') or that it is necessary not to do something ('mustn't', e.g. 'You mustn't be late'). Notice that it's not clear whether we actually do the action that is considered necessary (or not necessary) -- the rule is that we wear a mask on the bus, but maybe we don't actually do that.

A sentence with causative 'make' is similar in that it expresses obligation, but it also shows that the action was performed. For example, 'I must do my homework' means I need to do my homework, but it doesn't mean that I did it. But 'My father makes me do my homework' clearly shows that I do my homework.

Does that help?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mosikvd le mer 09/12/2020 - 13:50

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Hello I have a question. "Luke could/was able to read when he was only three years old" Which one of them is true? Thanks for helping

Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 10/12/2020 - 07:51

En réponse à par Mosikvd

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Hello Mosikvd,

Both forms are possible here and there is no difference in meaning in this context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Noor Muhammad le mar 01/12/2020 - 05:16

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What are the "have to,has to,had to,ought to,be able to ,need,needn't, dare etc are called in grammar? Are they semi-modals?

Hello Noor Muhammad,

The principal modal auxiliary verbs in English are can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will and would. They are sometimes called full modals as they have all of the characteristics of modal verbs in terms of meaning (expressing modality) and form (they have no inflection, no infinitive form, no participle form, are negated by the addition of 'not' and form questions by inversion rather than with another auxiliary verb).

The verbs you mention, plus others such as had better, are characterised by having some of the elements of full modal but not all of them. Thus, they may express modality but have inflections in the third person present simple, for example (you need > he needs). These are sometimes called semi-modals, quasi-modals or pseudo-modals.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Timmy Ferrer le jeu 05/11/2020 - 09:30

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Hello! I'd like to seek explanation on the following examples from a book. These pertain to school rules: A. Students MAY bring drinks to school, but we CAN'T drink them during classes. Students CAN'T come to school by motorcycle. We MUSTN'T use mobile phones during classes. We CAN work part-time. We CAN'T get a driver's license. We CAN have lunch at the school yard. B. Students MUST wear their uniform correctly everyday at school. We MUST wear our indoor shoes. QUESTIONS: For the (A) sentences: Is MAY interchangeable with CAN, vice versa? Are CAN'T, MAY NOT, and MUSTN'T also interchangeable? If they are, how can we know which modal verb to use, especially in sentences like these? Does it matter if we use one instead of the other? What implications do they have? For (B): What should be our basis for using whether "MUST" or "HAVE TO"? Hoping to hear your feedback. Thank you so much in advance!

Hello Timmy Ferrer,

I believe that all of your questions about the (A) sentences are answered on the Permission and Suggestions and obligations pages in this section. Please have a look there and if anything is still not clear after that, you are welcome to ask us again.

'you have to do something' means it is necessary to do it or that you are obliged to do it. 'you must do something' has a similar meaning, but it used more often in written rules and instructions (particularly in British English -- this use is less frequent in American English) and is also used to express your opinion about an action. For example, if we are speaking about a new film and I tell you 'You must see it', this doesn't mean you are obliged to see it -- it's a way that I can express my opinion -- in this case in the form of a strong recommendation.

So in the (B) sentences, both 'must' and 'have to' are possible. 'must' would be particularly common in writing, especially in British English, and 'have to' works as well and has the same meaning.

Hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le mer 04/11/2020 - 05:04

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Hello. Is the following sentence OK? - It is necessary not to play in the street. Does it mean : You must not play in the street. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

In general, yes, it means that. It's slightly awkward to say 'It is necessary not' to do something, though, because it means you should do something, but that something is not doing something.

I'd suggest using your sentence with 'must' or 'You are not allowed to play in the street' instead.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le jeu 29/10/2020 - 09:22

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Hello. Could you please help me? Are two modals OK? - By the ages of five, I (could - couldn't) swim 100 metres. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Only could is possible here. The phrase by the age of suggests a change and an achievement; not being able to swim is simply a continuation and certainly not an achievement.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par fdrewaserera le jeu 01/10/2020 - 03:13

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Hi 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 And 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

Soumis par Peter M. le ven 02/10/2020 - 07:59

En réponse à par fdrewaserera

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Timmy Ferrer le ven 11/09/2020 - 07:22

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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.

 

Peter

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Sunyoung1005 le jeu 03/09/2020 - 18:03

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par LilyLinSZ le ven 21/08/2020 - 04:08

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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?

Hello LilyLinSZ,

1) This use of should is a variant on the present subjunctive, used for expressing things that we wish for, assume or imagine. You can read more about the subjunctive in English here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_subjunctive

 

2) In this sentence, will expresses a firm belief or certain knowledge; must expresses a strong expectation based on existing knowledge, deduction or experience. Will expresses certainty on the part of the speaker; must expresses strong expectation, but is still speculative.

 

3) The explanation here is the same as for the second question. Both will and must are possible, with the differences in meaning noted above. You could also use might, may, could and should). If you change by now to yet then the negative forms of the modals are also possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par hyunjoo76 le mer 19/08/2020 - 11:34

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Hi Teacher, I hope you are doing great! Your secretary told me that you would be coming over. Otherwise I should have felt compelled to call you at home - Why is "should have felt..." used instead of "would have felt..." I reluctantly agreed to a postponement on condition that the sale should be completed and the boat handed over by 31st August. Is the use of 'should' here considered a past tense form of "shall"?

Hi hyunjoo76,

In the first example, using should sounds more formal or official in style than would

For the second example, yes! Should here has the meaning of shall in the past tense. It's another example of should to make a statement sound official.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan 

The LearnEnglish Team