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 SonuKumar le jeu 28/09/2017 - 12:57

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Sir, You must have done that. haven't you or mustn't you ? You might not have done that. have you or might you ? what Should I use as tag questions ?

Hello SonuKumar,

I'd recommend 'right?' in a case like this. That's what I'd do as a native speaker. I honestly don't know what the correct verbal form would be and I haven't been able to find the answer in my reference works, either. Perhaps a form exists, but if so, it would probably sound quite unusual these days. For these reasons, I'd recommend 'right?', which performs the same function as a question tag.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Annamol le sam 23/09/2017 - 15:50

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If I write an academic essay, which modal verb (could or would) will be more suitable to express a possible out come, for example , air pollution would or could be the underlying cause lung cancer.

Hello Annamol,

For that specific sentence, I would recommend 'could' over 'would'. You can read more about both verbs on the pages linked to below.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le mer 06/09/2017 - 08:14

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Sir, He comes from his work and goes somewhere here so He must live here if we have to rewrite this last sentence so should we write it like this He definitely lives here, He probably lives here or we imagine he lives here ?

Soumis par SonuKumar le dim 03/09/2017 - 09:03

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Sir, Though I know that we can't use 'Could' for past until we have two occasions, one of which shows past like this (I could run fast when I was a child) But with adverb like 'past and before' Can we use 'Could' like this I can't do it now But I could do it before or in the past or Just simply I could do it before or should we always say I was able to do this ?

Hello SonuKumar,

You can use 'could' to talk about past general ability (like in the sentences you ask about). It's also common to use 'used to' ('I used to be able to do it'), but there's nothing wrong with 'could'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Casimir le sam 02/09/2017 - 09:40

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hello can you help me with this: 1. Choose the best answer to complete the following: 1) You will have to carry out the agreed program....... your own personal feelings a) no matter b) whatever c) whatever are d) however

Soumis par Kirk le dim 03/09/2017 - 18:09

En réponse à par Casimir

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Hello Casimir,

Could you please tell us what you think is the correct answer? If you can explain why, that will help us help you better.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Padders le ven 01/09/2017 - 09:09

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Can you talk me through the grammar of this sentence: Can I leave at 4 o'clock, please?

Hello Padders,

Please let us know how you see it and then we can confirm if you've understood it correctly or not. If not, your analysis will help us give you a more useful answer.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le sam 12/08/2017 - 18:25

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Sir, He probably starts his days with a cup of tea nowadays. for present. He probably started his days with a cup of tea those days. for past. Now the question is, Could I use 'would' here in both sentences for past and present probability with no change in meaning ? Could 'would' be used like this for present and past probability ?

Hello SonuKumar,

No, 'would' isn't used this way to refer to probability in the present or in the past. You could use it to refer to a past habit, but if you're not certain about that habit, you'd have to use a different construction, e.g. 'I imagine he would begin his days with a cup of tea in those days'. Though to be honest, it sounds a bit odd to use 'would' to refer to a past habit when you're not certain so I wouldn't recommend it. I'd probably just say 'I imagine he began his days with a cup of tea.'

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le jeu 10/08/2017 - 13:26

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Sir, My friend got a call from somewhere and she said to me "The boy on the phoneline had a French accent, He would be Ronald" Ronald is our old French friend. Now she said He would be Ronald but I think she could have said 'He would have been Ronald' because the incident was in past why didn't she and what is difference between would be or would have been in terms of probability in the past, And keeping the same incident in view what is the difference between could be or could have been like she said he could be Ronald but couldn't it be 'Could have been' in terms of possibility in the past ?

Hello SonuKumar,

I'm sorry -- we can no longer answer theoretical invented questions such as this one. If you have a question about something on our site, please feel free to ask.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le jeu 10/08/2017 - 08:42

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Sir, How is 'Dare' used in past as modal ? Please give at least one or two examples.

Hello SonuKumar,

Please see the Cambridge Dictionary entry for 'dare'. There's at least one example sentence there in the past tense, and under the Grammar block, there is a link to a more detailed explanation.

In the future, please look first in the dictionary. If there's something you don't understand, you're welcome to ask us a specific question.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le dim 30/07/2017 - 18:41

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Sir, My friend died this week, perhaps because He wouldn't eat properly. Now Could I use 'would' this way for past probability ? I did not use 'past simple' because I want to show that He probably did not use to eat properly in the past, so he died while past simple may show that I talked about his one-time eating If I don't use adverbs like 'Daily or Everyday' and all I want to know is if 'would' could be used like this in the past or present for probabilities ?

Hello SonuKumar,

Your explanation of the meaning you want to communicate is helpful, but could you please write the sentence that you're wondering about? 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le mar 18/07/2017 - 05:00

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Sir, There was a king, who probably used to go to a slum area, Now I doubt about if he really used to go or not, So I used 'Probably' here And I could also write like this- A king probably went to a slum area, But now my question is, Could I write like this A king probably would go to a slum area, and does it still work if I don't use 'Probably' in this sentence but here I'm using 'would' for past probability and the same for present A king probably goes to a slum area Now Could rewrite it like- A king probably would go to a slum area, for present probability. So Sir, I'm really been looking for it on internet for a long time to know if 'Would' is used like this or not, but I found nothing please just tell me this if 'would' could be used like this for past and present probability or not please clarify only once my heartedly request to you, though I know that this website is not for uses like this but please only for this ?

Soumis par Sash le ven 14/07/2017 - 15:01

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I’m sorry, I I will not be available later. Can you please explain why there is 'be' before 'available'?

Hello Sash,

'available' is an adjective. In English, unlike some other languages, a sentence must always have a verb. In this case, the verb is 'will not be', where 'will' expresses the future and 'be' is the main verb.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I feel embarrassed now. I should've given it more thought. Thank you for your help. Sometimes I look at the sentence and I just don't see the explanation. I appreciate it.

Soumis par Sagir Mondal le lun 10/07/2017 - 16:12

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In respect of possibility , What is the difference between could and might ?

Hello Sagir Mondal,

I think it will be easier to explain this if you provide examples of the sentences/uses you have in mind. That way we will be sure that we mean the same thing by, for example, 'possibility'. If you can provide an example sentence for each modal then we'll be happy to comment.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Katniss le sam 24/06/2017 - 16:40

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Halo sir, I'm doing a research in linguistics currently. May I know the difference between modal verbs and modal adjuncts?

Hello Katniss,

LearnEnglish is a site for people learning the language rather than for students of linguistics so we are not really the best place for this kind of question. There are quite a few linguistics discussion forums that you might find helpful, such as this one.

In grammar, the term 'adjunct' describes any part of a sentence which is not necessary and can be omitted. The term 'modal' describes a linguistic item which shows the mood or opinion of the speaker on the action or state described.

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs which express the speaker's mood or opinion. These are verbs such as 'must', 'could', 'will', 'should' and so on. You can read more about these verbs in our section on modal verbs.

Modal adjuncts are any kind of phrase which (a) expressed the speaker's mood or opinion and (b) can be omitted. These are often adverbs. For example, the adverb 'Hopefully' in this sentence is a modal (it tells us the speaker's opinion) adjunct (it can be omitted):

Hopefully, we will meet him soon.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Omyhong le jeu 22/06/2017 - 05:27

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Hi, sir. May I know if the following sentence is correct? 1. No, you should not. Can I end my sentence just like this or I should write it as 'No, you shouldn't do that.' Thank you, sir.

Hi Omyhong,

It's fine to say 'No, you should not'. We generally do not repeat the verb in short answers, though it is not wrong to do so in order to make the sentence more emphatic, for example.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj jk le mar 20/06/2017 - 14:27

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hello team how to tell that my finger is cut unintentionally when I was chopping some vegetables (just few seconds ago) 01. I've cut my finger myself 02. my finer is cut what is the more natural way to say so and I want to know that when someone is bitten by a snake or a viper how to yell them in a real situation ( except exclamations) 01. I've bitten a viper 02. A viper has bitten me 03. I am bitten by snake

hello raj jk,

There are several ways to express these but I think the most likely would be as follows:

I've cut my finger.

and

I've been bitten by a snake.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par RV le jeu 15/06/2017 - 11:11

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The Taj Mahal complex is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653. so, the structure "is + 3rd form of the verb + to+ have been" what the meaning of this. and second thing is: May have +3rd form of the verb might have + 3rd form of the verb May have been + 1st form of the verb + ing might have been + 1st form of the verb + ing would have + 3rd form of the verb would have been + 1st form of the verb + ing supposed to have been seems to have been give me the proper use of above

Hello RV,

I'm afraid we don't provide on-demand explanations of multiple questions that would take quite a bit of time to answer properly. Rather, what you are welcome to do is review our pages and then ask us a question about something on one of our pages. Occasionally we also answer questions that are related to what's on our pages, but these questions must be specific.

So I will take your first question and try to help you with that one. First of all, note that this is a kind of passive voice structure with an infinitive. You could rephrase your passive voice sentence to something like 'Historians believe the Taj Mahal complex was completed in its entirety in 1653.' If, for whatever reason, you don't want to mention the historians, you can transform it into the sentence you ask about by changing 'believe' into the passive and 'was completed' into a passive perfect infinitive ('to have been completed' -- the active form of this perfect infinitive would be 'to have completed', but that doesn't work here).

By the way, for explanations that might help you understand the other forms you ask about, read further in this Modal verbs section and you should find some useful content.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par jodu23 le jeu 15/06/2017 - 04:20

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I wanna know the uses of continuous (modal+be+ing) and perfect continuous (modal+have been+ing) of modal verbs.

Hello jodu23,

The use of modal verbs varies a great deal according to context - the same modal verb can have many meanings and each meaning can be expressed by several different verbs. We can't really provide long explanations of all the different possibilities in the comments sections here so I will comment on one particular example.

 

  1. John must be working.
  2. John must have been working.

In the first sentence the speaker is making a guess about the present - that John is in the process of doing.​ We can express the same sense by John is likely in the middle of his work right now.

In the second sentence the speaker is making a guess about the past. We can imagine that the speaker has some evidence (John is looking tired) and is speculating about the cause of this.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

You have made me clear. I want to study this in details. Could you give me a reference or source where I will find it in details??

Hello jodu23,

I'm glad we could help. The British Council doesn't recommend other sites because they tend to be commercial in one way or another. Your examples are modals of deduction and a search for these (present and past) would be a good place to start.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par raj jk le mar 13/06/2017 - 02:51

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hello team please can you show a way to modify was, were (continuous tenses) and and past tense using should, must etc. eg. Her body was found near the school, she must was going to school.

Hello raj jk,

'must' and other modal verbs can not be followed by a finite verb like 'was going'. They can only be followed by some form of infinitive. In this case, I'd suggest the perfect continuous infinitive: 'must have been going'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le lun 12/06/2017 - 04:51

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Sir, As we use the model verb 'Shall' For request and offer like- "Shall I take your Moterbike for today ?" and "Shall I hold it for you ?" But If I have to speak somthing to someone orderly like- Like someone calls me on my phone at 2"0" Clock at night and Now I want to speak him forcefully or orderly, then Could use "Will" rather than Shall like- "Will we talk tomorrow" For giving order, Because I think we can't use "Shall" For giving orders. So Sir, Could use will like this please explain and could we also use 'Will' Like Shall as above ?

Hello SonuKumar,

'Shall' is quite rare in modern English and is used for first-person offers or suggested actions such as 'Shall I bring it upstairs?' It is quite formal-sounding and usually 'Should' or 'Can' is preferred. We do not generally use 'shall' for requests so we would not say 'Shall I take your motorbike?' but rather 'Can I take your motorbike?'

If you want to ask or suggest a conversation then 'Shall we talk tomorrow?' is possible. If you want to give an order then you would not use a question at all but rather say 'We will talk tomorrow'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Sagir Mondal le dim 11/06/2017 - 14:08

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In which sense , the modal "Should " is used in the sentence below . "I should fall if i tried to fly " .

Hello Sagir Mondal,

In second conditional sentences after 'I' and 'we' subjects, 'should' can be used instead of 'would'. This is not very common anymore, i.e. most native speakers don't use 'should' in this way these days, but you can still hear it sometimes and also find it in books.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par ahmed nafie le ven 09/06/2017 - 09:48

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Are these sentences both correct and if so , what if both are given as choose ? Retirement ....be an unahppy event. mustn't - shouldn't

Hello ahmed nafie,

Both modal verbs are grammatically correct, but the meaning of 'shouldn't' makes more sense than the meaning of 'mustn't'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le lun 05/06/2017 - 08:36

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Sir, Could I use "Could Not" For future especially for real condition like I couldn't come tomorrow and I could not eat the meat in evening tonight ? But I think "May and Might" could be used Like this what do you suggest for it as well ? please explain

Hello SonuKumar,

It would not be correct to use 'could not' in that way. If you aren't sure about a future action, you could use 'may' or 'might', e.g. 'I might go to the cinema tonight'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team