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

MultipleChoice_MTYzNDI=

 

Take your language skills and your career to the next level
Get unlimited access to our self-study courses for only £5.99/month.
Thank you for the reference and your quick reply, Peter. I see that in legal terms "shall" is complicated. It seems the case especially when translated. I had discovered various references to the "shall/must" argument and the link you have given me supports the ambiguity argument. Finally, with many examples in the same building code between "shall be permitted" vs "shall" I was able to convince the colleagues that the former is an optional provision, while the latter is an obligatory requirement.
Hi Patricia, I fear you may have over-analysed this. The word 'shall' in both of your examples does indeed imply a mandatory requirement. In the case of "shall be permitted", the 'shall' simply refers to the obligation that permission be granted (should it be requested). There is no ambiguity in the value of the word itself, only a difference in context. Buena suerte con los colegas.

Soumis par shani le ven 21/09/2018 - 13:35

Permalien
Hi, I have a question. Would 'depending on' be considered a modal verb? As in 'I might go for a walk, depending on how the weather holds out'. Having trouble working out which grammatical category this fits into. Thanks.

Hello shani,

'Depending on' is a participle phrase, not a phrasal verb. The verb is 'depend' and it is often followed by a preposition ('depend on') but it can also be used by itself:

Our answer depends on the cost.

Are you going to buy it? It depends how much it costs.

 

You can see a list of common verbs which are followed by prepositions on this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par amol le jeu 20/09/2018 - 08:22

Permalien
I was to have left on Thursday. But on Thursday I had a terrible cold so I decided to wait till Saturday. In the above example, can I use "had to" in place of *was to have left"

Hello amol,

In terms of grammar, you can say 'I was to have left' or 'I had to leave', but the meaning is slightly different.

'I was to have left' means the same as 'I was supposed to leave'. It describes a plan or intention which was not completed.

'I had to leave' describes an obligation. It suggests that something made it necessary for you to leave. This may have been something you know in advance or something which surprised you.

There is a problem with the sense of the second sentence, however. 'I had to leave' suggests you had no choice, but the second part of the sentence makes it clear that you did have a choice, because a cold was enough to change your mind. This would appear to be contradictory.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le sam 04/08/2018 - 20:41

Permalien
Sir, while asking a question to someone for future, should we use 'Wll'or 'Going To' ? When will you buy a car or when are you going to buy a car and when will you come or go or when are you going to come or go ?

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 05/08/2018 - 07:03

En réponse à par SonuKumar

Permalien

Hello SonuKumar,

Both are possible.

There are many ways of talking about future time. If we are asking about a person's intention or plan then 'going to' is appropriate. If we are asking about a decision made at the moment of speaking then 'will' is more likely.

You can read about future forms on our page on the topic.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Amaavee le sam 23/06/2018 - 04:07

Permalien
Please tell me, when I do exercises how I drag the words into the answer box if there is more than one word?

Hello Amaavee,

Moving items is done by clicking rather than dragging. Click once on the item and then click again on the box where you wish it to go. If you click on an item already in the box you will swap it for the new item; if you click on the box itself you will add the item.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par jitu_jaga le mer 13/06/2018 - 18:02

Permalien
Hi, I was watching a movie and I found one girl says to a boy 'I promised my mother not to do this' and then the the boy says to the girl ' why would you say this?' Here, does this sentence mean 'Why did you say this?' or 'Would' has a different meaning like in 2nd conditional sentence? I don't understand? Please explain with some further examples?

Hello jitu_jaga,

'would' can be used to speak about willingness to do something in the past – that is how I would understand this here. It's another way of saying 'Why did you want to say this?'

'would' is also used to express a hypothetical situation; perhaps one could argue that that is how the boy was thinking about it, but in this context I'd say it's more an expression of willingness.

In any case, it's clear that it means the same thing as the past simple form you suggest in this context.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le mar 29/05/2018 - 17:47

Permalien
Sir, I had to wash a lot of clothes. This sentence means that I did wash the clothes, but if I say " I had to wash a lot of clothes, and then add, but I couldn't or didn't". This means that I didn't wash the clothes. Now The question is, Should I use 'Had to' if I didn't wash clothes adding 'I couldn't or I didn't ' or Should I use 'Supposed to' like this - I was supposed to wash a lot of clothes, but I couldn't or I didn't ? Do they both mean the same thing or Is one of them not correct ? while the other is correct.

Hello SonuKumar,

If you say I had to wash a lot of clothes then we do not know if you washed them or not; we know only that you had this obligation. We may guess what you did, but the sentence does not tell us.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Carmen M5 le sam 12/05/2018 - 22:01

Permalien
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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Adya's le mer 09/05/2018 - 03:23

Permalien
Hi 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. Regards

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 09/05/2018 - 07:27

En réponse à par Adya's

Permalien

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!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Adya's le mar 08/05/2018 - 04:40

Permalien
Hello 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. Regards

Soumis par Peter M. le mar 08/05/2018 - 08:01

En réponse à par Adya's

Permalien

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Learner Kid le jeu 29/03/2018 - 18:42

Permalien
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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le lun 26/02/2018 - 06:57

Permalien
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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Manshuk le mer 17/01/2018 - 12:23

Permalien
Sorry,where can I find exercises about this theme?

Hello Manshuk,

This page is a general page on modal verbs. You can find exercises on the pages devoted to particular modal verbs or concepts. You can see links to these pages above the comments section or in the list on the right.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Sash le jeu 11/01/2018 - 20:27

Permalien
Could you please help me understand what does seldom direct mean hear? Documentation is a critical step in the revitalization process of a language, but the path from documentation to producing new speakers is seldom direct.

Hello Sash,

The phrase 'the path... is seldom direct' means that the process is usually a complex one.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Hamdy Ali le mer 03/01/2018 - 18:54

Permalien
Hi I just want to check the answers 1-There is a lot of traffic.We(must-might)be late. The author chose might but I think must can be the correct answer 2-The tour guide said that ten is the (fewest-least) number of tourists she can take on the boat trip. the writer chose least but I think it is fewest is the correct answer

Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 04/01/2018 - 08:36

En réponse à par Hamdy Ali

Permalien

Hi Hamdy Ali,

In the first example 'might' is correct. We can use 'must' to speculate about the present (so we could say 'they must be getting worried now') but not to guess about the future.

In the second example I would say that 'the fewest tourists' or 'the lowest number of tourists' would be the most natural options. You could say 'the least number of tourists', though it is unusual and not the most common/standard option. 'The fewest number of' is not correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Hamdy Ali le mar 02/01/2018 - 14:50

Permalien
How do you do? Choose 1-There is a lot of traffic.We(must-might)be late. 2-The tour guide said that ten is the (fewest-least) number of tourists she can take on the boat trip .

Hello Hamdy Ali,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers to questions from elsewhere. If we tried to do this then we would end up trying to do everyone's homework or tests for them! We're happy to explain things and provide as much help as we can but we don't give answers to tasks from elsewhere.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Etibar le mer 13/12/2017 - 10:26

Permalien
Hello for everyone, I am Etibar from Baku, Azerbaijan. I am here new. Can I join the Learn English Team? Thank you

Hello Etibar,

Since you signed up as a LearnEnglish user, you are already part of the website -- welcome! You can now ask us questions here in the comments section on most any page, and you can also write to other users.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le ven 24/11/2017 - 16:09

Permalien
Sir, I wish (1) I had a pizza daily, or (2) I wish I would have a pizza daily. I wish (1) I didn't go there nowadays, or (2) I wouldn't go there nowadays. Which is more appropriate and acceptable out of the two in both sentences ?

Hello SonuKumar,

We generally do not use 'would' with I after 'wish'. This is because 'would' means a choice, and if we are talking about ourselves then we can simply choose to do what we want. In other words, if someone says 'I wish... I would' then the answer is simply 'if you want to do it then do it'. We can use 'would' for other subjects however:

I wish he wouldn't do that (because it irritates me)

I wish you would stop (I want you to stop)

 

We use 'could' in such sentences with the first person, as 'could' tells us that something is stopping us from doing what we wish to do.

 

Thus your sentences with 'I would' are not correct sentences. Whether the other sentences are appropriate depends on what you are trying to say, of course, but they are not grammatically incorrect.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par rosario70 le mar 17/10/2017 - 08:57

Permalien
I wish you sorry, i put badly the question. I wanted say if both sentences below have the same meaning. 1) I sneaked into the house so that nobody would hear me;2)I sneaked into the house so that nobody heard me. Beacause when i translate that in italian lunguage i obtain the same meaning. thanks again

Hello rosario,

I'm sorry! Now I understand what you're asking.

I understand both sentences to mean the same thing, but the first one is better in terms of the grammar. This is because 'would' is typically used after 'so that' to talk about purpose in the past. In this way, 'so that nobody would hear me' expresses the intention behind your sneaking; 'so that nobody heard me', which isn't standard (because the past simple isn't typically used here) sounds more like a description of what happened.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par rosario70 le lun 16/10/2017 - 14:05

Permalien
Hi ,teachers i have a doubt. i noticed the following sentence: I sneaked into the house so that nobody would not hear me. May i write that as it follows?: I sneaked into the house so that nobody didn't heard me. thanks in advance.

Hello rosario,

No, I'm afraid the double negative forms there ('nobody' and 'not' or 'didn't') are not correct in standard English. 'I sneaked into the house so nobody would hear me' is what I'd probably say.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par mqhusa le mer 04/10/2017 - 23:03

Permalien
Dear Sir, could you please tell me that the following sentences are grammatically are correct or not? If not, please explain. 1. She asked the teacher what should she do. 2.When I watched that film I was so boring that I fell asleep. your quick reply will be highly appreciated. Best regards Qasem

Hello Qasem,

Neither of those sentences are correct. The correct forms would be as follows:

 

1. She asked the teacher what she should do.

2. When I watched that film I was so bored that I fell asleep.

 

The first sentence is a reported question and so inversion is not required. You can read more about reported questions here.

The second sentence needs an -ed form. The film is boring and as a result I am bored (by it). You can read more about -ing and -ed adjectives here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le mer 04/10/2017 - 15:29

Permalien
Sir, I think I will tell her this when I meet her, and I have already meet her but did not tell her, but Now she is in front of me again and I said "I thought I would tell you this when I meet or met you, but sorry! I didn't. Now the question is what should I use In my subordinate cause Meet or met ? I have changed the will into would be because the time when I first met I didn't tell so the time has gone, but what about the subordinate cause meet or met ?

Soumis par Fuente le mar 03/10/2017 - 00:39

Permalien
hey there!!! I am doing some exercise which Im not able to understand. Im wondering if someone can give me a hand to solve them,or maybe give me some reference or recommendations. A) The following language forms are used to request others to perform an action: Do me a favor and pass that paper, will you? Could you possible pass me that paper? You couldn't pass me that paper , could you? 1) Examples of 3 further forms that might be used to make similar requests. 2) What factors are relevant in deciding which of there forms to in a given situation? and the other exercise, its about pronunciation/ sentence stress B) 1) Have you met my wife? 2) Have you met MY wife? Explain the difference in meaning between the pair of sentences. I really appreciate if someone can give me some orientation. Many thanks for your time!!! Maria C Fuentes

Hello Fuente,

I'm afraid we don't offer help on exercises from elsewhere. While we're happy to provide explanations of our own material, we are a small team here and cannot provide explanations of tests, homework or exercises which others have written. This is a job for your teacher, or else for the author of the material (who should have a key available for you to see).

You can find many resources online and on LearnEnglish on these areas. For the first do a search for 'polite requests in English'. For the second, search for 'contrastive stress'.

 

Best wishes and good luck,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hey Peter I want to thank you for taking your time in helping me, I had found many resources! I really appreciate your cooperation! Have a nice week! Regards from Italy! Maria
Hi Maria, Your first question: 1) Examples of 3 further forms that might be used to make similar requests. Would you pass me that paper? Would it be possible to pass me that paper? If you could, can you pass me that paper? Pass me that paper, could you? ** All of those seem clunky to me. "Could you please pass me that paper?" would be the most effective. 2) What factors are relevant in deciding which of there forms to in a given situation? - Do me a favor and pass that paper, will you? I would say this in an informal situation. Between friends. Passing paper is not an action that requires a favor as it is a simple task. As such, it is sarcastic about the favor. You don't use sarcasm with unknown people unless you intend to offend. - Could you possible* pass me that paper? *"possibly", not "possible." This could be used in a more formal situation. It almost asks without demanding. "Pass me that paper please?" is more demanding in tone....adding the "Could you possibly" to the front of it is apologetic in nature. - You couldn't pass me that paper , could you? This one is similar to the previous one, but even more apologetic. It sounds as if you are apologizing for actually have to ask the question and bother the person. You would use that in a situation where you absolutely do not know the person that you are talking to. To recap. Use the first one if you are sitting at a table with your friends or acquaintances. I could also say. "Could you pass me that paper?" Use the second one if you are sitting in a meeting with some people that are not your friends, but you will spend a few hours with and might never see again. I might also say "Excuse me, could you pass me that paper, please?" Use the last one if you are sitting in a public library, and you are asking a complete stranger to pass you something. You have no interaction with the person before or after the request. I would probably say "Excuse me, I'm sorry to ask, but could you please pass me that paper?" Your second question. Explain the difference in meaning between the pair of sentences. 1) Have you met my wife? 2) Have you met MY wife? Grammatically, these are identical; however, you SAY them differently. The second sentence you are putting emphasis on the MY. In fact, you could say this sentence in any of these ways. 1) Have you met my wife? 2) HAVE you met my wife? 3) Have YOU met my wife? 4) Have you MET my wife? 5) Have you met MY wife? 6) Have you met my WIFE? Each of those put emphasis on a different word. 1) This is a simple question: you are asking for a yes/no answer. 2) This sounds like I am surprised that you have (or have not) met my wife. 3) This is to clarify that YOU have met her instead of someone else meeting her. 4) This asks if you have actually seen and talked to her. Perhaps you only saw her from afar. 5) This asks if you met MY wife specifically and not some other woman. 6) This asks if you me my WIFE instead of, perhaps, my neighbor. Emphasis depends greatly on situation....so the above are examples of possible interpretations.