Javatpoint Logo
Javatpoint Logo

Modals in English Grammar

Modal verbs express potential, intent, capacity, or necessity. Since they are auxiliary verbs (or the helping verbs), these are utilized in combination with the statement's main verb. Examples include the terms like can, should, and must.

When it pertains to using modal verbs in a phrase, they can be hard. The good thing is that they are straightforward to use once you understand how they function. We'll go over all you must understand how to use modal verbs appropriately.

Modals in English Grammar

What Exactly Are Modal Verbs?

Modal verbs are employed to explain hypothetical situations like guidance, capacity, or request (a complete list is provided in the following section). These are utilized in combination with a primary verb to change its meaning considerably.

They can't be employed by themselves since they're auxiliary verbs. (A modal verb must only exist alone if the main verb is understandable from context.)

Understand the distinction between the below- mentioned two examples:

  • I cycle every Wednesday.
  • I can cycle every Wednesday.

The first instance is a straightforward factual statement.

The presenter engages in a cycling activity every week on Wednesdays.

The modal verb can is used in the second example. Analyze carefully how the meaning changes eventually. The presenter does not cycle every Wednesday; rather, they state that they are capable of cycling every Wednesday if necessary. It's speculative.

Modal verbs are quite common and popular in the English Language, and you've probably encountered them numerous times that too without realizing what they're known as. The most commonly used ones are;








There are numerous modal verbs, however, the ones mentioned are among the most prevalent. Certain modal verbs, like shall and ought to, are uncommon and seldom used, but others, like ought to, have to, or need to, are more popular. Some convey highly particular situations that do not occur more often, like dare, as in "I dare say." The words used to, as in "He used to be an French teacher, too," also function as a modal verb.

Modals in English Grammar

When Do Modal Verbs Come Into Play?

Modal verbs exhibit what specific conditions? Here are some instances of when to utilize modal verbs:


Some things appear plausible, but we don't know for certain. To demonstrate likelihood without certainty, utilize the modal verbs should and must.

  • Her family must be too proud of her.
  • My younger sister should be sleeping by now.


Utilize the modal verbs could, may, or may if something is feasible but isn't certain.

  • Assessing by the sky, it might snow today.
  • Lisa may become the youngest professional football player ever.


The modal verb indicates if or not the subject can do an act or exhibit an ability. Likewise, the negative version, cannot or can't, shows that the subject is not able to execute or do an action.

  • He can speak four languages, but neither of them well.
  • You can guide a horse to water, however you can not make it drink.

Asking permission

Start your question with the modal verbs like can, may, or could if you desire to take permission to achieve something. Typically, the verb may is a more appropriate modal verb for permission; if you question "can I go to the restroom?" it could be misunderstood as "do I have the capability to go to the restroom?" (However, may and can are also completely valid possibilities in modern language when denoting possibility or permission.)

  • May I leave early yesterday ?
  • Could I enjoy too ?


Likewise, if you wish to request something from somebody else, start your request using the terms will, would, can, or could.

  • Would you pick the book from the upper rack ?
  • Will you tone down the song ?
Modals in English Grammar


What if you wish to suggest something rather than dictate it? You can employ the modal verb should to give comments or advise without ordering someone about.

  • He should try the pasta.
  • That man should use less perfume.


If you wish to command somebody, however, use the modal verbs must, ought to, or need to

  • Before you begin eating, you must clean your hands.
  • You need to arrive before 9:00.
  • Is it an obligation or a necessity ?

An essential activity, like an obligation, duty, or need, can be conveyed with modal verbs. Similarly, the negative form implies that an activity is not required. As with instructions, utilize the same modal verbs like must, have to, or need to.

  • They have to wait for their manager to come before we close.
  • You do not require to show up if you do not wish to.


One can employ the modal word would indicating the past tense and the modal verb will be indicating the present as well as the future. These will help depict a continuing or habitual action?an act that the subject conducts on a regular basis. When discussing a habit that no longer holds, the term used to is also appropriate to use.

  • When I resided by itself, I would take naps with music.
  • I will come early and depart late to every conference.

Modal Verbs: How to Utilize Them (with examples)

Fortunately, utilizing modal verbs in a phrase is quite simple. Simply recall the following criteria for fundamental sentences?the simple present tense:

Modal verbs are usually utilized prior to the main verb (except for questions).

Utilize the infinitive version of the main verb without "to" when using modal verbs.

So, to boast about your capacity to consume an entire sandwich, use the infinitive version of "eat" without "to"?which is just "eat"?and put the modal verb "can" ahead of it. The remainder of the statement is normal.

I can finish one full sandwich.

For queries, you still employ the infinitive version of the main verb, but in a different format:

[modal verb] + [subject] + [main verb]

So, consider the preceding example as a question :

Can you finish the entire sandwich ?

Since modal verbs mostly deal with generic scenarios or hypotheticals that have not yet occurred, the majority of them are written in the present tense. Nevertheless, some of them can be employed in multiple verb tenses, so let's go over how to make them.

Present Tenses

We've already discussed the simple present, however modal verbs may also be used in the present continuous as well as the present perfect continuous tenses.

Present Continuous

Use the term be accompanied by the -ing form of the primary verb after the modal verb.

[modal verb] + [verb in the -ing form ]

I should be trying.

Present Perfect Continuous

You may easily insert a modal verb in the present perfect continuous tense. When you're using a modal verb, then, you should always employ "had," never "had," regardless of whether the subject is in the third person.

[modal verb] + have been + [verb ending in -ing ]

Helen must have been resting.

Present Perfect And Past Tenses

It's a little more difficult to place a modal verb in the simple past tense, the past continuous tense, and present perfect tenses.

For beginners, two modal verbs, can and will, have a simple past tense. For using either of these in any of the past tenses, firstly conjugate these in their past-tense form:

can -> could

will -> would

All of them stay the same, however some can no longer be utilised in the past. Modal verbs frequently deal with hypothetical scenarios, although an action that has already occurred cannot be hypothetical. These are usually used for fantasising about the past, such as "what if...?"

There are no modal verbs that can be employed in the past perfect tense or past perfect continuous tense.

Simple Past

Only can and will can be utilized in the simple past, according to the list of key modal verbs mentioned above. Have to and need to are likewise acceptable especially if they are conjugated as had to and needed to. Other modal verbs employ the present perfect to talk about previous events.

The terms can and will utilize their past tense forms with the infinitive forms of the primary verb without the word "to," just as they do in the present.

could/would + [infinitive verb]

  • I could do a cartwheel when I was a child.
  • During classroom sessions in college, I would not rest much.

Past Continuous

Can and will are only applicable in the past continuous.

It is created in the similar manner as the present continuous, but with the modal verb in the past version.

could/would + [verb in the -ing form]

I could be acting properly now.

Present Perfect

Rather than using the main verb's infinitive version, use the present perfect form, that is "have" with the past participle. As previously stated, you should always use "had," even if the subject is in the third person.

If you're going to utilize can, make sure you use the past tense version of could.

[modal verb] + [past participle] = I might have moved to the conference, but I forgot.

Future Tenses

The fact is that most future tenses often use modal verbs since they contain the word "will." If you intend to employ an alternative modal verb, such as "can" or "should," use it regularly with the verb's infinitive form and without will.

I can roam today.

Should I practice law this year ?

Modals in English Grammar

Modal Verbs and Their functions

Let us have a look at some popular modal verbs and the functions/ roles their perform. These include ;


Used to indicate the subject's capability to do an activity or to request permission to carry out an action.


Used to indicate the individual's ability to execute an activity or an offer presented by the subject to carry out a task.


Used to indicate the likelihood of an activity occurring or to request permission to carry out an action.


Used to indicate the likelihood of an activity occurring or to suggest things .


Used to signify the certainty of an action taking happening or the subject's certainty to perform a specific action.


Used to express politeness while seeking or asking if the person can perform an action.


Used to signify the certainty of an action taking happening or the subject's commitment to carry out a particular action.


Used to indicate the subject's need to perform an action.


Used to express the subject's strong responsibility or necessity to do or not do something.

Should be

Used to express the subject's commitment to undertake a specific action.

Modals in English Grammar

Uses of Modals

Uses of Will

  1. The first guideline for using Modal 'will' is that it conveys pure future with subjects in the second or third person.
  2. Another criteria for using Modal 'will' is that it indicates desire, intention, commitment, or determination when used with the 1st person as a subject.
  3. Then the last application of Modal 'will' is to describe the quality, habits, assumptions, invite or requests, and demand.

Usage of Modal 'Would'

Modal 'would' is used to communicate past behaviours, polite requests, wishes/preferences, or a hypothetical state.

Usage Of Modal Shall

  1. The primary guideline for using Modal 'Shall' is that it represents complete future with the subject in the 1st person.
  2. The second rule for using Modal 'Shall' is to seek advice, recommendations, requests, and so on with the 1st person in the interrogative.
  3. The final criteria for using Modal 'Shall' is to convey order, threat, caution, promise, guarantee, determination, and so on using the 2nd as well as the 3rd person as subjects.

Uses of Modal 'Should'

  1. The primary criteria of using Modal 'Should' is to convey responsibility, duty, advise, or desire.
  2. The second rule for using Modal 'Should' is to communicate logical intervention, presumption, assumption, option, or probability.
  3. The third criterion for using Modal 'Should' is that it is utilized after 'lest' to convey a purpose.

Modal 'May' Uses

The rule for using Modal 'May' is to convey possibility, permission, want, faith, desire, or an intent.

Modal 'Might' Usage

The rule for using Modal 'Might' is to convey less probability, permission, or an estimate.

Modal 'Can' Usage

The rule for using Modal 'Can' is to indicate permission, probability, capability, or capacity.

Modal 'Could' Usage

The rule for using Modal 'Could' entails that it is intended to communicate prior ability or capability, a polite request, or a probability under particular conditions.

Modal 'Must' Usage

Modal 'Must' is utilized to communicate obligation/duty, need, coercion, prohibition, assertive advise, determination, supposition, summary, certainty/strong likelihood.

Modal 'Have to' usage

The rule for using Modal 'Have to' is that it needs to be used to give counsel or advocate something.

Modal 'Need' Usage

The basic criteria for using Modal 'Need' in negative and interrogative statements is that it primarily shows the lack of requirement or compulsion.

Modal 'Ought' Usage

The rule for using Modal 'Will' is that it is utilized to communicate the subject's obligation or duty as well as to provide advise.

Modal 'Dare' Usage

The rule for employing the Modal 'Dare' is to utilize it when we need to exhibit courage. It is typically used negatively and interrogatively.

Modal 'Used to' Uses

The criteria for Modal 'Used to' utilization is that it is employed to express past practices and the presence of something that took place in the past.

Using Modal Verbs to Structure

A Modal verb is accompanied by some other verb in its original state (the infinitive alone without 'To') which is not conjugated (they do not affix a 'S' in third person). Look at the structure below:

Subject + Modal Verb + Verb (root form of the infinitive )

I can translate French (NOT: I can to translate French )

He can translate French(NOT: He can translates French )

She can translate French(NOT: He cans translate French )

Negative Sentences with Modal Verbs

Subject + Modal Verb + not + Verb (root form of the infinitive )

  1. Visitors must not stroll in the lawn. (= Visitors mustn't stroll in the lawn )
  2. She cannot speak Mandarin. (= She can't speak Mandarin. )
  3. They should not be early. (= They shouldn't be early. )

Contractions of the Modal verb + not are typically feasible, as seen in the instances above.

Can't is the negative of can ('not' is connected to 'can') and can't is the abbreviation.

Modal Verbs in Questions

Modal Verb + Subject + Verb (root form of the infinitives )

  1. May I assist you ?
  2. Can I have some other piece of dessert please ?
  3. Would you like to accompany us ?

Modal Verbs in Sentences: How to Use Them

Here are a few instances of how modal verbs might be used to convey the possibility or likelihood of an action occurring. The modal verbs have been highlighted for ease of recognition.

  1. It might snow later in the night.
  2. I think they will arrive in Chennai by 9 p.m.
  3. Can you pickup up my daughter from school today on your way back from work ?
  4. I could find time to assist you with your homework.
  5. Your buddies may pay for your trip next week.
  6. You would not be able to complete everything by later this evening.

Here are some instances of modal verbs used to highlight the subject's need and duty to undertake a certain set of acts.

  1. All learners at this institution ought to follow the rules as well as the directions.
  2. All personnel should adhere to the dress code.
  3. You must get medical attention before the condition is severe.
  4. Your daughter will have to give a leave application if she wishes to take a week's leave.

Offers, ideas, and requests can all be made with modal verbs. For more details, see the examples provided below

  1. It would be preferable if you arranged it the other way around.
  2. If you wish, I could assist you.
  3. Shall I give you some water ?
  4. Could you please hand over the research record to me ?
  5. Will you please look after my kid for 45 minutes ? I need to do some weekly shopping.

Modals: The Most Common Errors

Now that we've covered the modal verbs, let's look at some frequent errors individuals make while utilizing them.

  1. The most common error with 'can' is using it to request permission. For instance, the line "Can I use the restroom?" is incorrect since it should be "May I use the restroom? "
  2. Another typical error is using 'may' instead of'might'. The sentence "I may go to the park this summer," for instance, is incorrect since it should be "I might go to the park this summer. "
  3. The final common mistake is using 'could' instead of 'can'. For instance, The statement "I could go to the park this summer" must be "I can go to the park this summer. "

Now that we've covered some frequent mistakes, let's look at how to avoid them.

  1. When using the modal verb can, make sure you're expressing ability or permission rather than asking for permission.
  2. When using the modal verb may, be sure you're expressing possibility rather than certainty.
  3. When employing the modal verb could, make sure you're expressing capacity in the past rather than the present.

When Should Modals Not Be Used?

Modals can be used to represent different degrees of certainty.

However, there are some scenarios where the modals should not be used.

For instance, modals should not be used when in uncertainty. Furthermore, modals shouldn't be used in queries where the answer is already known. Modals should not be utilized in formal writing either.

Finally, modals can be used to communicate politeness; however, politeness is not always acceptable. Modals should be avoided in such instances. These are verbs that communicate levels of competence, assurance, or politeness. In English, the primary modals include can, could, may, might, will, would, and should.


Thus conclusively, Modals are peculiar verbs that behave erratically in English. They are also known as the modal verb, the modal auxiliary verb, and the modal auxiliary. They are distinct from common verbs such as "work, play, visit..." They provide more details about the purpose of the primary verb that comes after it. They provide a variety of communication functions.

Modal verbs have the following characteristics :

  • They never change their appearance. You cannot include "s", "ed", or "ing"...
  • These are always accompanied by the infinitive that does not include the word "to" (e.i. the bare infinitive. )
  • They are utilized to convey certainty, possibility, willingness, duty, necessity, and ability.

Youtube For Videos Join Our Youtube Channel: Join Now


Help Others, Please Share

facebook twitter pinterest

Learn Latest Tutorials


Trending Technologies

B.Tech / MCA