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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Hello Lamastry,

Modal verbs are followed by the base form or bare infinitive form of verbs, which is often the same as the present simple form, but not always. For example, we say 'He can be very moody' not *'He can is very moody'. I'd suggest you read through the pages in this section, where you can see lots of examples of these verbs in use.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Lamastry,

Either the base form (also called 'the infinitive without to') or a perfect infinitive (have + past participle) is used after modal verbs.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par vishwa chauha le sam 03/10/2015 - 18:29

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Hi All Good Evening, I am new in site and try to learn the model verb. During the Future Plan test I found a Question: 'I would love to go out with you tomorrow' in this sentence i am not able to understand why would is used here. Please help me to understand this. Thanks in advance.

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 04/10/2015 - 07:27

En réponse à par vishwa chauha

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Hello vishwa chauha,

We use [would like to + verb] to express a preference in a polite way. It can be seen as a conditional form with a hidden 'if' clause ('if you agreed' or 'if you didn't mind').

However, I don't think trying to analyse this as an example of the use of 'would' as a modal verb is particularly helpful, to be honest. Seeing it as a functional exponent - a way of expressing preference - is more communicatively helpful, I would say.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Vaughan le sam 26/09/2015 - 09:49

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Dear Friends, My colleagues often correct me when I miss out a modal verb when I write sentences like this: "It is essential that the foundation be firmly established." Can you please confirm that this is mistaken, and if so, how to watch avoid such mistakes in the future? Thank you for your time.

Hello Vaughan,

That sentences is perfectly correct. I assume you are referring to the use of 'be' in the second part of the sentence, but it is quite correct. This is an example of a subjunctive form, which is an uncommon form in English, but is quite correct.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SIDARTA MARTINS le mar 18/08/2015 - 15:20

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Good Day from Brasil, dear Friends. I understand that there are almost 13.000 verbs in English and almost 700 regular verbs. Do You think that I can consider these numbers in my researches about English Verbs? Is there a number? Thanks a lot. Sidarta Martins (Mr.)

Hello Sidarta Martins,

I'm afraid I don't have any figures available and I think estimates vary widely, so I can't help you with your research. It's an interesting topic and I'd like to know the answer too!

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Trulyyours4v le lun 17/08/2015 - 15:42

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Where we not use singular 3rd person "s"..please?

hello Trulyyours4v,

Modal verbs do not have a different third person form, so we never use third-person 's' with them.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much Sir,Actually my question is in which auxiliary or other verbs we not use the "s" for singular 3rd person..example..She can go to cinema,here we not use "s" likewise I wanna know with other special verbs we may not use the "s'...I'm very weak in this singular 3rd person form as well as using "could". Thank you again for the wonderful service to the people like me...

Hello Trulyyours4v,

Modal auxiliary verbs, listed in this section, do not have the third-person inflection. Other verbs do.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par MarikaK le mer 05/08/2015 - 13:04

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Hello, Could you please advise: ‘Could’, ‘may’, would’, ‘might’. I have read that requests with ‘may’ and ‘might’ are unusual today and are considered by most people old-fashioned. However, our teacher and some other books say that ‘may’ and ‘might’ must be used to make formal requests. Are those two really old-fashioned (and how about American English too), or it is fine in the café of London to say: ‘may I have one coffee, please? ‘, or on the street to ask for help by using: ‘may you please help me? ‘ By the way, have I used a correct modal ‘must’ in my sentence: ‘must be used to make formal requests’?

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 05/08/2015 - 18:51

En réponse à par MarikaK

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Hello MarikaK,

It is very much context-dependent. I wouldn't say that you 'must' use a particular form to be polite or formal, nor that these forms sound old-fashioned. In an appropriate context they are perfectly acceptable. They are formal and very polite, but not unnatural.

The use of 'must' is fine.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par ronaz2015 le sam 01/08/2015 - 16:03

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Hello teacher, actually I have lots of questions here, 1- for request, Are all these options correct and same in meaning?, which is the best one if all acceptable? can/could/may/might repeat that for me? May/might/can/could I ask you question? 2-for offer, Are these all options correct and same in meaning? Which is the best one if all acceptable? Can/could/may/might I help you? 3- in this sentebce, are all these options correct and same in meaning He is verey ill. You shoud /must/have to call a doctor. 4-for expectation, what the difference in meaning when we use these modal verbs in this sentence? He should /may/might arrive any minute. 5-Are all these options correct and same in meaning in thes sentence if the flight was on time, he should /may /might arrive in Jakarta early this morning. -For regret about past action, can we use must instead of should in this sentence You should have been more careful.

Hello ronaz2015,

I'm afraid it's not possible for us to answer so many questions at once. We receive questions from many learners and try to work through them each day; if we spent so long on one answer then we would not have time to answer all the questions we receive.

Before asking, please take a look at the other pages on modal verbs. For example, the page on can or could looks at how these can be used in requests, and the difference between them. The page on may, might, may have and might have provides information on those words in requests.

If you look at these pages you'll find the answers to most of your questions, and we'll be happy to help you with answers you can't find.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Rox4090 le mer 15/07/2015 - 19:19

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Hi, I am confused with the use of -may,might,could. Let me show. I may go for shopping today. Rob may meet me there and pay my shopping bill. Then we could go for a coffee or watch a movie. Afterwards,I might take him for long ride, but I would go only if he would be free. I have used modals in this paragraph and please rectify it if there is any mistake in it.

Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 16/07/2015 - 06:21

En réponse à par Rox4090

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Hi Rox4090,

Those are all fine. You could use other modals in some places ('might' instead of 'may', for example), but it is fine as you have written it apart from one error: the last part should say '...but I would go only if he were free'.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Tanina Saha Shampa le sam 11/07/2015 - 17:52

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hi, I want to know, a) In conditional sentence how introductory subject is used? suppose, if there had not been any mark in exam, I would not give exam.( there is no marks, no exam will be given). is the sentence is correct? b) exactly when "had been" will be used?..what does the meaning of these two words stand for?

Hi Tanina Saha Shampa,

'Suppose' is used for questions based on hypotheticals:

Suppose there was no electricity in the city. What would you do?

We would not use 'Suppose, if...' in this way.

I would rephrase the sentence as follows:

If there had not been any marks in the exam, I would not give the exam.

However, though this is grammatically correct now, I am not sure what you are trying to say by 'no marks'.

'Had been' is the past perfect form of 'be', or part of various verb forms. I'm afraid you'll need to provide a specific example for us to comment - the range of meanings is too broad for us to describe all of them.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par rosario70 le jeu 09/07/2015 - 21:10

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good evening, i've a question for you: 1)you are supposed to be hitting me. 2) you should be hitting me. i'd like to know whether there is a difference between the two senteces and why? thank you in advance.

Hello rosario70,

The difference is that the first sentence describes expectation - the speaker is, for example, surprised that the person is not hitting them.

In the second sentence the speaker is giving advice - they think that hitting is necessary or required in some way.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par williamhaviland le lun 22/06/2015 - 13:10

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Hi. I have a question regarding verb tenses in English. On my TEFL course we were taught there are strictly 12 tenses. But no mention was made of 'used to...' as in "I used to play the piano". I remember from my days studying French that this is termed the Imperfect tense [in that language] - do we not class this as an independent tense? Is it considered a modal verb construct? Would really appreciate clarity on this point, as I have searched online but cannot find a satisfactory summary of the point. Thanks for any help guys!

Hello William,

The number of tenses in English is an issue that has no easy answer, I'm afraid. There are many, including Dave Willis, the author of our grammar reference, who argue that there are only two tenses in English, though it's true that we often speak of 12. In neither case is 'used + infinitive' included as an independent tense. We concentrate on helping people learn English here so I can't go into great detail on this, but you might find the wikipedia entry on modal auxiliary verbs useful. I'd also recommend you take a look at TeachingEnglish, where there is also a forum in which you can ask about topics such as this one.

Good luck!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par ananthan56 le sam 20/06/2015 - 10:42

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What is the difference between modal verbs and auxillary verbs?

Hello ananthan56,

Auxiliary verbs are 'helper verbs' which are used to add functional or grammatical meaning, such as voice, tense, modality and so on.

Modal verbs are one kind of auxiliary verb. They add information about probability, ability, permission and obligation.

You can find a list of all the auxiliary verbs in English on this page.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par hamadbaghdadi le mar 16/06/2015 - 09:07

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Dears please may i know the differences between the following sentences 1- i used to be ignored 2- i used to being ignored 3- i am used to be ignored 4- i am used to being ignored

Soumis par Kirk le mar 16/06/2015 - 13:22

En réponse à par hamadbaghdadi

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Hello hamadbaghdadi,

Sentences 2 and 3 are not correct. In sentence 1, 'used to' is used to refer to a regular action in the past that is no longer true. In sentence 4, 'be used to' is used to refer to something you are accustomed to. These two constructions are explained on our ‘used to + infinitive’ and ‘be/get used to’ page, which I'd encourage you to read for more information.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par misam le jeu 11/06/2015 - 09:28

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thanks a million Kirk I have two more question in field of "be used to" 1.Is it possible to use passive voice in this expression?and is it common? for example, I am not used to being ignored. 2.is using "be able to" with "be used to" possible and common in English? for example, I am used to being able to tolerate others behaviors. I DO appreciative what you are doing for students on this website.

Hello misam,

The answer to both of those questions is 'yes'. Your examples are absolutely fine, apart from 'behaviours' in the second example - this should be 'behaviour' as it is an uncountable noun.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par misam le jeu 11/06/2015 - 04:54

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Hello Peter and Kirk I have two questions. 1. would you please tell me the difference between these to sentences?and is the second sentence common in English? I could play piano. I used to be able to play piano. 2. is "used to" used is passive voice ?and is this structure common in English? like: children used to be neglected. like always I am grateful for all of your effort.

Hello misam,

In 1, if the context is speaking about a past time, 'used to' indicates that the action (or in this case, ability) is no longer true (i.e. I can no longer play the piano now), whereas 'could' does not indicate that – but otherwise they mean the same thing.

In 2, yes, 'used to' can be used in this way. Your sentence is correct and sounds perfectly natural. Good work!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par nidaz le mer 10/06/2015 - 20:10

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hey hi cud you please guide me about the auxilary verb used to ?? is it used with verb's ing form for example is this sentence wrong or right ?? " iam used to playing cricket " ??? is this right please tell me thank you

Hi nidaz,

That sentence is fine. It means that playing cricket is normal for the person and is not anything new or unusual.

'Used to' can have another meaning when it is followed by an infinitive, but when followed by -ing it has the meaning described above.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nandishchandra le jeu 28/05/2015 - 18:59

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Hi LearnEnglishTeam, This is related to modal verbs. whenever we use modal verbs,how should we spell it out,what makes sense?.For example, 1.john could have learnt things at ease. suppose if a speaker spell out each below sentences with pause ,wherver i have plus mark, while he/she speaks,in which sentence he/she is perfectly native or making sense? i could have+learnt+things at ease,or, i could have learnt + things at ease,or, i could+have+learnt things at ease,or, i could+have learnt +things at ease Thanks. Best Regards, Nandish.

Hello Nandish,

Where a pause occurs depends upon the speaker's choice in terms of what information is emphasised, what is considered to be known and what new etc. The words 'could' and 'have' are linked in normal speech, with the 'have' weak rather than stressed. More than this depends, as I said, on the context.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nandishchandra le jeu 21/05/2015 - 17:31

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Hi LearnEnglishTeam, Please look into these sentences down below where i have used modal verb could, 1.i could do it when i was a kid, 2.i could do it tomorrow, 3.i could do it. In the first one,i have clearly made it clear that it is past ability. In the second one,i have clearly made it clear that it is future ability. And in the third one,neither have i said past or future.So which time it is,past,future or present? Please explain it at your convenience. Best regards, Nandish.

Hello Nandish,

On the context can clarify the meaning of sentence 3. Otherwise, as you observe, it is indefinite.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nandishchandra le dim 17/05/2015 - 06:42

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Hi LearnEnglish Team, are these equations correct? could = was able would = was + being Please correct if am wrong, Best Regards, Nandish BC

Hello Nandish,

I'm afraid it's not that simple. Most words, and especially modal verbs, have multiples uses and meanings. You should read all the pages in this section to learn how these words work. I'd also recommend patience – it takes time to learn to use modal verbs.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par bnpl le ven 15/05/2015 - 21:19

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Hello the LearnEnglish Team members, I’d like to ask if “dare” can be used in affirmative sentences and if it has a past form when it is used as a modal. I’d be grateful if you would get back to me at your earliest convenience. Rgds, bnpl

Hello bnpl,

'Dare' is a semi-modal, rather like 'need', which is becoming a regular verb. It is more common to say 'dare to do' than 'dare do' - the latter sounds rather anachronistic.

In answer to your question, 'dare' can be used in affirmative sentences and it has a regular past form - dared.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, Thank you for your reply! I’d like to clarify if “dared” is the past form of both the semi-modal “dare” and the regular verb “dare”. If so, are the following example sentences grammatically correct? 1) Everyone dared not go into that haunted house. 2) Everyone did not dare to go into that haunted house. Rgds, bnpl

Soumis par pradipsinhhada le jeu 14/05/2015 - 04:53

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I know I may struggling.. Is it a right grammar? If not plz make it right.

Hello pradipsinhhada,

Modal verbs such as 'may' are followed by a bare infinitive. Therefore the correct sentence would be either 'I know I may be struggling' (talking about this moment) or 'I know I struggle' (talking in general).

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Iand32 le dim 01/02/2015 - 15:07

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Hi there. I have been struggling with re learning English while studying for my TEFL qualification. We have been asked to analyse certain grammatical parts of a sentence. I am currently stuck on this; Eventually we 'HAVE TO SLEEP' have to sleep being the section to analyse and explain the MFP of. I understand according to my books that it is a phrasal modal verb, but is it possible to explain which tense this would fit into if it does as when i look i can't see how it would fit as it doesn't seem (to me) to fit into anything i.e. follow a rule. I'm really stuck on the form part Ami being blind and not looking hard enough or is it another random English rule that has a clause to it? Any help would be grateful as I'm really struggling with this section of grammar Ian

Hello land32,

Perhaps I'm missing something, but the tense in 'Eventually we have to sleep' seems to me to be the present simple. Does that make sense to you?

By the way, this sort of question is the kind of thing that our sister site TeachingEnglish is made for. There you'll find a community of teachers who might have some great advice for you on this.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team