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 sam 03/06/2017 - 06:01

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Sir, is it a right sentence "I was scared, that My father would ask me about what happened" and Could I also use the second form of the verb ask like asked rather than using would ask "My father asked me" ?

Hello SonuKumar,

Both forms are possible but there is a difference in meaning.

 

I was scared that my father would ask me about what happened.

This sentence tells us that you are worried about something that might happen in the future. Your father might ask you and the prospect worries you.

 

I was scared that my father asked me about what happened.

This sentence tells us that you are worried about something that has already happened. Your father asked you, and the fact that he asked you makes you worried.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par marik12s le jeu 01/06/2017 - 15:51

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Hello! Please kindly advise what variant is correct: 1. I fear that I may/might be imprisoned 2. I fear that I will be imprisoned 3. I fear that I could be imprisoned 4. I fear that I would be imprisoned Thanks a lot in advance!

Soumis par Peter M. le ven 02/06/2017 - 07:10

En réponse à par marik12s

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Hello marik12s,

As I said in my earlier comment, all of these are possible. Which is required depends upon the context and the speaker's intention.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par marik12s le jeu 01/06/2017 - 15:37

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Hello! Please kindly advise what modals should be used after expressions of fear, e.g. "I fear that I ____ be imprisoned". Is the use of could/would will be correct? Thanks a lot in advance!

Soumis par Peter M. le ven 02/06/2017 - 07:09

En réponse à par marik12s

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Hello marik12s,

There are many possible modal verbs which would be correct in that sentence. Both 'could' and 'would' are possible, but so are others such as 'will', 'might', must' and others. Without knowing what the speaker wishes to say it is not possible to say which one is required.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par JamlMakav le mer 26/04/2017 - 19:20

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Hello, What is the difference between simple present and ''will' when expressing habitual event, action... "Yesterday, I went to my favourite cafe and I ordered the usual: a vanilla latte... (...) ...Sometimes, I ''will order'' or ''order'' a coffee cake if I'm feeling a little hungry. Thank you

Soumis par Kirk le jeu 27/04/2017 - 06:51

En réponse à par JamlMakav

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Hello JamlMakav,

Most of the time, the simple present would be used to describe this sort of situation or action. As you've noticed (good work!), 'will' can also be used to talk about typical actions or behaviour, but this is not nearly as common.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par ibrahemyacoup le ven 24/03/2017 - 10:34

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hello sir i am confused to use ( have to) or (must) . i have three sentences and i would like to know why using ( must ) or ( have to) is right or wrong here 1. He's very ill, he must stay in bed. or He's very ill, he has to stay in bed. 2.They are happy because they don't have to wear a uniform in their new school. or They are happy because they mustn't wear a uniform in their new school. 3. You mustn't worry about her ! She’s all right now! or You don't have to worry about her ! She’s all right now! thanks

Soumis par CELTA-John le sam 25/03/2017 - 10:50

En réponse à par ibrahemyacoup

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Hi. For #1 and #3, the use of (have to) or (must) is identical. A speaker might have a personal preference for one or the other, but there's no difference in the meaning. For #2, the meaning is similar but different. (don't have to) means that they can wear a uniform (if they want to) but there is no requirement to. I.e. Uniform or no uniform, both are okay. By contrast, (mustn't) means that, even if they wanted to wear a uniform, they must not. Only 'no uniform' is okay. I hope this helps. John

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 26/03/2017 - 09:47

En réponse à par ibrahemyacoup

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Hello ibrahemyacoup,

In the affirmative the meanings of 'have to' and 'must' are very similar. 'Must' often implies an obligation which you have set yourself - it is your own decision - while 'have to' implies an external obligation set by rules or laws of some kind.

In both your first example both options are possible. Which is better depends on the context and the speaker's intention.

In the negative form 'don't have to' means that there is no obligation. You can do the action or not, as you wish. However, 'mustn't' means that you are not allowed to do it.

In your second example 'have to' is more likely as having the choice of wearing or not wearing is more likely to make people happy than not having a choice.

In your third example both forms are possible. 'Mustn't' here represents strong advice: it is not a good idea to worry about her. It has a sense of 'please don't let yourself get upset'. 'Don't have to' means there is no need to do this because the person is getting better, though worrying was the right thing to do before.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par The sky view le mar 14/03/2017 - 18:07

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Hello, When modals are used in reported speech, how do they change? (especially: must and needn't) are these sentences correct? ‘You needn’t come till six o’clock,’ he said. He said we needn’t come till six o’clock. She said, ‘You must pay by 30th April.’ She said we had to pay by 30th April. ‘It must be awful to live in such a noisy place,’ she said. She said it must be awful to live in such a noisy place. Many thanks.

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 15/03/2017 - 07:43

En réponse à par The sky view

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Hello The sky view,

Those sentences are all grammatically correct. Other options are possible, but this would depend on the context in which the sentences are used and we do not have that. For example:

‘It must be awful to live in such a noisy place,’ she said.
She said it must be awful to live in such a noisy place.

We do not know from this if the person still lives in the noisy place or not.

‘It must be awful to live in such a noisy place,’ she said.
She said it must have been awful to live in such a noisy place.

We know from this that the person no longer lives in the noisy place. We might use this form, for example, if the person has moved away from the noisy place in the time between the original statement and the reported statement.

Context and intention are very important in reported speech as there are often multiple options available to the speaker.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

 

Soumis par Sagir Hossain Mondal le dim 05/03/2017 - 14:51

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I would like to say that In the poem named " We Are Seven " by William WordsWorth , What is the meaning this sentense "What should it know of death ? " Actually , Sir, in which context has the poet used " SHOULD " ? Please sir , help me .

Hello Sagir Hossain Mondal,

Poetry is a creative endeavour and the language in poems is often not typical of ordinary language use. The meaning in this poem is something like 'What would we expect it to know?' or 'What is is supposed to know?' rather than 'should' in the sense of giving advice or expressing duty.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

At first , I am implying my profound homage to you. Well , sir , The poet , William Wordsworth has used the sound " SHOULD" for indicating " expection " .
My homage be to you , sir. Well , in this sentense " You ought to smile more ", in which context has the sound OUGHT TO used . I take it that OUGHT TO is used as ideal /desired state but profusely confusions occurred to me about using OUGHT To , so, my dear sir , I shall be obliged if you kindly explain about using OUGHT TO with sentense . Thanks you lot .

Hello Sagir Hossain Monal,

'Ought to' has the same meaning as 'should'. It is used to give advice with the meaning 'it would be good (for us/for you/generally) to do this'. For example, a doctor might tell a patient 'You ought to get more exercise and have a more healthy diet'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir , I hope you are fine for blessing of God . What are the differences among CAN , MAY , MIGHT. as. possibility ? . And What are the differences among CAN , COULD , MAY , MIGHT and WOULD as request ? And What are the differences between SHOULD and MUST as moral obligation ? And What are the differences among CAN , COULD , MAY , MIGHT and SHALl as permission ? Well , profusely problems occurred to about making out the differences among them. So I request you for explaining those models . Please help me sir as soon as possible .

Hello Sagir Hossain Mondal,

There are links to the uses of these modal verbs above (on this page). If you use those links you'll see explanations and examples of use of all of these. You can also take a look at the sections on modal verbs on this page.

We're happy to try to answer concrete and specific questions (such as your earlier question on 'ought to'), but we can't provide long explanations in the comments sections like this. That is what the information on the page is designed to do!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le mar 28/02/2017 - 10:53

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Sir is there any difference among these sentences, I should do this and I should have to do this and I had to do this and I had had to do this ?

Hello Sonu Kumar,

It's not really possible for us to provide long explanations of multiple forms in the comments section, I'm afraid. If you have a particular question about a form in context then we'll be happy to try to help, but comparing and contrasting four different forms without any context (so all uses need to be considered) is not really possible.

If you have a particular sentence you are confused about, we will try to help you with it, especially if is an example from our pages. If you have a particular context and are not sure of the best way to formulate a sentence then we will try to help. However, we can't provide long explanations of multiple decontexualised sentences covering all possible uses and variants. This is a job for your own teacher, I'm afraid. We are a small team here and can provide some help, but not individual lessons of this kind.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le mar 28/02/2017 - 10:47

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Sir Could tell me pls. if I had asked you a question like this " He had said, I will watch a movie tomorrow" and Now I'm telling to my friend that He had told me that He would watch a movie next day would it be right ? And Sir you told me in last you last reply that it seems that with had my sentence appears to be a report already. The sentence was "He had said, I give 10 rupees to you and He had told me that He gave me 10 rupees How is it a report already ? and would it be seem to a report already if I had said, He said, I give you 10 rupees and He told me that He gave me 10 rupees if yes, so I think it's the matter of verb. like If I had used verb go rather than give, then it would not like a report already Right ?

Soumis par SonuKumar le ven 24/02/2017 - 09:25

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Ok Thank you sir I will definitely keep that in mind.

Soumis par SonuKumar le ven 24/02/2017 - 06:50

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Hello sir, I want to know when we change verbs in reported and reporting in speech and not only verb but the whole sentence in indirect speech in reported speech with past indefinite. is possible to change the whole sentence with past continues and perfect and if not so why so ? For examples He was saying, " I will watch a movie here tomorrow" but would it be He was telling me that He would watch a movie there next day and He had said, I give you 10 rupees but would it be like this in indirect speech He had told me that He gave me 10 rupees ? if not so way ? then why do we change entire sentence with verb in indirect speech with past indefinite?

Hello SonuKumar,

If the original sentence (the direct speech) is

I will watch a movie here tomorrow

And you wish to report this speech to someone then we would most likely say:

He was telling me that he would watch a movie there next day.

So you are correct about that.

 

Your second example does not make so much sense. It appears that you are trying to report a sentence which is already a report. When you start with 'He had said...' you are already reporting speech from someone else, and if you start with 'He had said...' then you need to have a past perfect form in the second part of the sentence. For example:

He had said (that) I had given you 10 rupees.

It is possible to report this:

She said (that) he had said (that) I had given you 10 rupees.

Remember, though, that our choice of verb forms for the reporting verbs (said, had said etc) depends on the context in which it appears. Your question suggests to me that you are focusing too much on the interaction of the tenses in the sentence without considering the context in which the communication is taking place. Language is a means of communication, not an isolated system. It's important to have a context in mind as well as just the words and sentences.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le ven 24/02/2017 - 06:29

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Good Morning Sir, I want to know that as we change the verbs in indirect speech in reported speech. I think because the thing being told to someone now was in past and now we are saying or telling that in present in our own words that's why verb is changed but. What I want to know is that if I'm saying or asking something to someone without telling that who told me then which would be the right sentence, I heard that you are going London tomorrow or I heard that you were going London tomorrow, I'm asking for present only and does it make any difference if we use 'that' past in tense can a verb be changed by that while using past like I knew it is you but if we put it like this I knew that it was you but if we want to say about present only so while using that would it be is or was ? Check out these sentences as well ( I found there was nobody in the room would it be thus with that I found that there had been nobody in room ? I thought you are gone but would the same sentence be this with that I thought that you were gone or would it give any other meaning related to past ?

Hello SonuKumar,

The use of different verb forms in reported speech is no different to that in normal language use. When the action is complete and in the past we use a past form; when it is still current we use a present form; when it is in the future we use a form with future meaning. The system is explained more fully on our page on reported speech, which you can find here.

 

I think it would be helpful if you could ask one question in your comment rather than several. It's hard to follow such a stream of questions, and difficult to provide an answer to multiple questions at once in the comments sections, which are intended for short comments, not long explanations.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le ven 24/02/2017 - 05:55

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Thank you very much Sir To correct me, But could you Pease Make this sentence by your own for me to make me more understated. Is right to make it like this I was scared that my dad asked me about what happened by why asked rather then ask is it because this is in past ?

Hello SonuKumar,

That is correct. We say 'asked' because it is a completed action in the past.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le mar 21/02/2017 - 11:56

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Sir, are these following sentences right ? If I had not had to run away I would have saved you. If Child had not stopped crying I would have had to beat him. and In the present, I'm scared lest my Dad should ask me as to what happened and In the past I was scared that lest my Dad should have asked me as to what had happened. I wish I wouldn't have had to do that with you.

Hello SonuKumar,

Sentence 1 is correct as is. In 2, the word 'child' needs a determiner (e.g. 'the', 'that', or something similar) before it, but otherwise is grammatically correct. In 3, I'd change 'as to' to 'about' and in 4, I'd change 'should have asked' to 'asked' and use 'about' (as in 3). Please note that 'lest' isn't used much anymore – even in formal situations, it is very rare. Finally, in 5 'wouldn't have had' should be 'hadn't had'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par alien657587576 le mar 07/02/2017 - 17:43

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Hello sir, What is right "stay home" or "stay at home"?

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 08/02/2017 - 08:42

En réponse à par alien657587576

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Hello alien657587576,

I would say that the second (with 'at') is correct. Grammatically speaking, the first one is not incorrect as 'home' can function as an adverb but the second is what people say in normal use in my experience.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par amol le mer 14/12/2016 - 09:25

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Hello Sir, Can we use "could" to show any future events/activities?

Hello amol,

The answer is yes. For examples, please take a look at our page on could.

If you have a question about a particular aspect of English please check the page or pages which relate to that topic. If you can't find the information then we'll be happy to help but we create the pages in order to provide answers to common questions, so please use them!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par amol le mar 13/12/2016 - 09:02

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Dear Sir, Why do we use the structure "If I were" to show imagination? "if I were" shows past form of tense. Kindly guide.

Hello amol,

The past simple is used to speak about unreal or imaginary situations. So if you say 'if I were a rich man', it means you are not a rich man - you are talking about an imaginary situation.

See the section on the second conditional on our Conditionals 1 page - I think this will help you see how this works.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par pyramid le sam 10/12/2016 - 11:35

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i can (simple present, CAN is main verb) i can a can i can cans a can can be canned Could a can have been canned? canned cans can can cans (personification) can canned can can cans? sir, i know these sentences are not used normally, but i tried to make sentences is there any grammatical mistake?

Soumis par pyramid le sam 10/12/2016 - 11:11

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One woman is able to destroy the whole world. One woman is capable of destroying the whole world. . can 'BE ABLE TO' be replaced with CAPABLE OF?

Soumis par amol le ven 09/12/2016 - 14:11

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Hello Sir, If "COULD" is the past form of "CAN", why can we use it to make polite requests in present tense?

Hello amol,

'could', like almost any auxiliary verb, is used in many, many different ways. Its use in polite requests is one use and its use as a past form of 'can' is another. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Widescreen le mer 30/11/2016 - 13:33

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" I wish we had a garden for the kids to play in". If I rewrite this sentence using so that, which modal verb ( can or could) is the correct one to use please? Eg: I wish we had a garden so that the kids CAN ( or could ?) play in . The reason I use Can is because it is the wish at the present and the speaker is talking about the current situation. However, if the original sentence is : I wish we had HAD a garden....., then COULD should be used as this is the wish about the past and the speaker is talking about the past event. Kindly let me know if I am correct. Also could you please explain the different uses of I wish or I wished. I.e, does it affect the meaning of the sentence if either is used. E.g I wish I knew her name . vs. I wished I knew her name. Thank you.

Hello Widescreen,

The verbs in the sentence should agree and since 'wish' is followed by 'had' the rest of the conclusions should be in agreement. Therefore the correct form here is 'could' to describe an imaginary present:

I wish we had a garden so that the kids could play in it.

If the sentence used 'had had' then the correct form would be 'could have', as it refers to an imaginary past:

I wish we had had a garden so that the kids could have played in it.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Mr.Ahmed Imam le sam 26/11/2016 - 18:45

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some reference books say that "can't have+P.P" and "couldn't have +P.P" are the only negative forms of "must have+P.P" However, Understanding and Using English Grammar, Third Edition, page 181 says that we can use "must not have+P.P" to express deduction about the past. What do you think" thank you.

Hello Mr.Ahmed Imam,

I'm afraid we don't comment on what other websites or books say. I'd suggest you look around at several sources (for example, the Cambridge Dictionary has quite a lot on grammar, including this page on 'must'). What you find repeated in several sources is more likely to be accurate than what you find only rarely.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Elka0507 le ven 18/11/2016 - 19:08

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Hello dear LearnEnglish Team, All over the Internet there are tons of quite controversial info about the 'real' usage of the modal 'must'. In some sources they assure it is used to express obligation and prohibition only in written speech (signs, rules) but almost never orally. The native speakers say 'must' only when they make a kind of predictions, and if you say something like 'You must go to bed early today. Tomorrow is going to be very busy', it will sound totally unnatural, even strange. But as an EFL teacher I always deal with different textbooks and grammar books while I'm getting ready for my classes, and I rather often come across like illustrations for texts and exercises e.g. The policewoman says 'You must not park here' (not 'You can't park here' as it is claimed) The doctor says to a child 'You must take this pill' (not 'You have to take it'). So I'm wondering if 'must' and 'must not' can be used in spoken English nevetherless to emphasize some shade of meaning (sort of superiority?) or those textbooks are just way too far from real spoken English? Sincerely, Elena