Modal verbs

Level: beginner

The modal verbs are: 



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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Submitted by MIRAZH on Fri, 06/12/2013 - 15:02


Dear teachers:

Could you help me....l'm really don't know about tenses,,,there we use only 16 tenses,,,,and in the internet l saw 26 tenses in english language.....!How many tanses have in english?

with refards




This is a question which provokes a lot of discussion!  The consensus today is that English has two tenses - present and past.  This is because tenses are defined in linguistics as inflectional changes in the form of the verb (changes in the verb itself, not just adding auxiliary verbs) which show time and in English there are only two such forms.  Other verb forms (such as continuous and perfective aspects or passive voice), are made by adding extra words, such as auxiliary verbs, or by using other words (phrases like 'going to', for example, or modal verbs like 'will').

I hope that answers your question.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Livon4090 on Thu, 05/12/2013 - 11:44


Dear Teachers,

I am interested to know about the usage of 'would be'.

What it is used for?

Sometimes people say : ' It would be fun' or 'It would be difficult'. They might be talking in present here or future . But I think the sentence refers to the past as 'would' is the past form of 'will'. Could you please clarify it and provide some explanation for it.

What do you think?

With best wishes ,




Hello Livon,

The two sentences you provide are actually examples of conditional sentences in which the if-clause has been omitted - this is quite common in English.  For example:

'It would be fun [if we did it].'

'It would be difficult [if we tried to do it].'

In these kinds of conditional sentences the 'would + verb' form describes an unlikely or impossible present or future action or state.  You can find more information on this and related structures on this page and on this page.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Pete ,
I appreciate your help.
With kind regards,

Submitted by Livon4090 on Fri, 29/11/2013 - 05:37

I am quite demented about the usage of modals may, might and could.These are used to express possibility,but might and could are past forms.Please explain
How can you use these three modals to express possibility and in what sense and degree?
Kindly please provide explanations along with examples.
With kind regards,

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 29/11/2013 - 14:43

In reply to by Livon4090


Hello Livon4090,

We are a small team here on LearnEnglish and we have to respond to many comments every day, so it's not possible for us to provide long explanations of quite large areas of grammar such as this - that is why we have the grammar explanation pages.  You can find examples and explanations for these modals used to express possibility on this page, and you can find information on the same modals used with 'have' here.  Please look at the examples there and if you have any questions about those examples, or if you have any other sentences you're not sure about, then please post them and we'll try to help you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Pete,

The following sentences are used for future possibility ,but not sure.

  1. They might come later (=perhaps/maybe they will come later)
  2. They may come by car (perhaps/maybe they will come by car)
  3. If we don't hurry we could be late (= perhaps/maybe we will be late)

Can we interchange the modals in the above three sentences.For example

  1. They could come later (=perhaps/maybe they will come later)
  2. They could come by car (=perhaps/maybe they will come by car)
  3. If we don't hurry we might/may be late (=perhaps/maybe we will be late)

I hope to hear from you soon.

Best wishes,



Hi Livon,

Yes, the first three sentences are all correct and all of them express possibility. The second set of three sentences with different modals are also all correct.

Good work!

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by shabbo22 on Sun, 24/11/2013 - 15:25


 could you explain the usage of did and have, when do you use did and have in a question?


Hi shabbo22,

Have you seen our page on question forms? This is explained in some detail on that page. After reading it, if you still have questions, please don't hesitate to ask us!

Best regards,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by shabbo22 on Sun, 24/11/2013 - 15:21


what is the difference between these two sentences, did you do your homework and have you done your homework?



Hi again shabbo22,

The difference between these two questions is the time: the first is a question in the past simple, and the second is in the present perfect. This difference is explained on our talking about the past page (see especially parts 1 and 3) and in this short video from Word on the Street. You might also find it helpful to read through the comments on both of those pages, as this is a topic that many people have questions on.

After you've looked at those resources, please don't hesitate to ask us another question on either of those pages.

Best wishes,

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Theresa Andrew on Fri, 11/10/2013 - 05:10

Hi, examples: 1. It's very valuable. You (should, must) be very careful with it. 2. I (must, should) remember to inform him about the delay. 3. You (must, should) not drink the tap water. It's not safe. 4. If it broke the day after you bought it, you (should, have got to) take it back to the shop. 5. Of course I'm worried. I (must, have got to) be at the airport in half an hour, and look at the traffic. Can you help me to understand the use of modal verbs in these sentences? I answered all these questions wrongly. regards

Submitted by Theresa Andrew on Mon, 07/10/2013 - 15:23

Hi Peter, Thank you for the explanation. My only concern is during APTIS test, both can be given as options unless I exactly know the use of the modal verbs, it's going to be tough in choosing the best answer. In the recent APTIS mock test, I had this confusion between the use of modal verb must with other verbs such as should and can't. I've tried many questions pertaining this modal verb even so I still make mistakes in answering the questions. Can you help me on how to overcome this confusion in answering exam oriented questions? regards

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 10/10/2013 - 13:14

In reply to by Theresa Andrew

Hi Theresa Andrew, I appreciate the point you're making. However, it sounds like the issue is related to the specific context in the test and it's hard for me to address these without seeing the examples. Perhaps you could post the particular example(s) you have in mind and I'll try to explain them for you. Best wishes, Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Theresa Andrew on Thu, 03/10/2013 - 16:56

Hi, sentence 1: 'You must not hit your sister again! Do you understand?' sentence 2: 'This is the non-smoking section. You can't smoke here.' Can you explain to me the use of 'must' in sentence no.1 and the use of can't in the sentence no.2? I often get confused with the use of modal verb 'must'. regards

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 06/10/2013 - 13:39

In reply to by Theresa Andrew

Hi Theresa Andrew, Both sentences describe things that are not allowed (prohibition), so the meaning is quite similar. The different is that 'must' in the first sentence suggests a more personal prohibition, while 'can't' in the second sentence suggests a rule or law which is not the speaker's decision. However, in many examples these overlap: something is prohibited both because the speaker thinks it is wrong and because it is illegal or against the rules, as in both sentences above. That is why either of the two modal verbs can often be used. I hope that helps to clarify it for you. Best wishes Peter The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by arsalanshahzad in sa on Wed, 02/10/2013 - 14:40


thank you 

Submitted by arsalanshahzad in sa on Wed, 02/10/2013 - 14:38



Submitted by eribarongan on Thu, 29/08/2013 - 07:29


Sir, I'd like to know more about should. Is it the same as "ought to"?

Can "should" be in continuous form?

please give me example.


Hi eribarongan,

I've just answered your other question about 'should' on another page and provided several links for you.  The pages following this one (click 'next' above) should provide you with the information you need, but in general 'ought to' and 'should' are very similar in meaning, though 'ought to' is much less common in modern English.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bilal Riaz on Wed, 05/06/2013 - 19:11


Sir, I want to know about the model may and might that these model have same usage.

according to your opinion, which model should be used in the present-day English?

Hello Bilal Riaz,

We use both ‘may’ and ‘might’ when we’re not sure about something and nowadays they are used interchangeably with this meaning. Some people consider ‘may’ to be slightly more formal, but I think it’s really a question of personal style, and you can use both of them so you don’t repeat the same words all the time. There is a difference in how we use ‘may have’ and ‘might have’, and there is are some differences in how we use them in requests. For more information on how we use them both take a look at the summary here.


Thanks for an interesting question which I’m sure a lot of people have been wondering about.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nisreen kamal on Wed, 01/05/2013 - 15:58


Hello Learn English team

First thing i would like to thank you for the great job .

I am working on research of modals verbs , I would like to know the resources of modals verb to put it in my  research , if there is any book ? please write it to me .

If that job belong to Adam Jk and Jeremy Bee only please let me know .

thank in advance


Hello Nisreen!


Interesting to know you're researching modal verbs - they're an important area in English! Our grammar pages were written specially for us, but there are a lot of grammar books which talk about modals in more detail. My first choice of reference is Swan's Practical English Usage, but other teachers use other books.


Good luck with your research!




Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish

Submitted by pangcoz on Fri, 19/04/2013 - 08:10


hi jeremy,

will you please make some sentences using 'may arise from....', 'if i may say so,.." 'i might have guessed..' i have no idea what does they mean?? please..

Submitted by Diegof on Tue, 16/04/2013 - 17:06


Hello Jeremy and Adam

I hope both of you are having a great time,

but I need to get form you advice because I'm getting worry about my English knowledge. I got level B2 last year and it was great. I got 4.8 out 5 that is a great grade but now it's passed almost four months since I finished classes and the lack of practice is killing (both me and) my knowledge. It seems I'm  forgetting all stuffs! No talk about speaking. That's getting worse!

I need desperately your advice. What can I do to keep on improving? I don't know. If I had a review of grammar all things seems to be so demanding and complicated, all things hard to remember easily without practicing. 

So guys, yes I'm a little bit frustrated. I'd love to travel abroad but it's not possible right now. So what do you think could be effective for my learning?

Ok that's all. Thanks for your supporting work. See you around!

Hello Nibelungo!


Congratulations on your test result - that's really pretty good!


As for forgetting stuff, in English we say 'Use it or lose it'! If you don't practice, you will find you forget your English. However, even if you can't travel to an English speaking country, there's plenty you can do to keep practising your English.


For reading and listening, we have lots of resources right here on LearnEnglish. You could try our Stories and Poems section for fiction, and our audio magazine or our business section for non-fiction readings and listenings. There's plenty there to keep you going, and we have more coming! What's more, reading and listening will help to improve your writing and speaking.


Speaking and writing can be a little more difficult to practice on your own. You can comment here on our pages for practice in expressing your ideas. For speaking, you could try to record yourself. Choose some of the discussion questions and go to a site like, record your answers,  and playback your recording – what mistakes did you make? What do you like about your answer? Also, remember you don't have to have a native speaker to talk to. Maybe a friend or colleague wants to talk English – ask around, and find someone who wants to practice.


Above all, try to do something every day!




Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Diegof on Wed, 17/04/2013 - 15:37

In reply to by Jeremy Bee


Hi again Jeremy!

Wow! You do know how to encourage students! I appreciate your reply to my message. I'll keep your message because you gave a way to study, I mean where to get started. So first of all by reading and listening, then writing expressing my ideas helped by discussion questions exercises and finally speaking recording in vocaroo. I got it.

I didin't know where to get started so you've helped me quite a lot. Thank you!!

See you around!


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Thank you.






Submitted by syaasy on Fri, 08/03/2013 - 00:34


Hi,, British council..

i really like this website. As a beginner It really help me understand English more..

Thanks syaasy, that's really good to hear!


Best of luck with your learning,


Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yusri on Thu, 31/01/2013 - 14:06


Hello British council, 

Firstly, I would like to thank you for the great job you do.

In the paragraph describing the modal verbs, you wrote "We use modals verbs to show..". However, in the title of this chapter you had used "modal verbs"!

How do we explain that? 

Thanks for your response. 


Hello Yusri,

It's very simple - we made a mistake! Thanks for telling us, I've fixed it now. Please let us know if you find any more problems on the site.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello AdamJK, 

Thanks for your reply :)

Pleased to interact with you. 

Good luck to you and all British Council learn English team.


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Hello Rowel,

Thanks so much for your offer, but this is a free website and we don't accept money. The best thing you could do for LearnEnglish is to help us attract more users. So, if you know other people who are learning English, please tell them about us!

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The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jasmine95 on Fri, 06/04/2012 - 22:07


Which one of these sentences is right :

-You have to do your H.W.


-You must do your H.W. and why?