What are modal verbs?
How are they different from other verbs?
- They are helping verbs (or "auxiliary verbs") that carry special meaning.
There are a few things to remember about modal verbs:
- They are always accompanied by a main verb (never alone)
- They do not change in the third person singular form (no "s")
- Many can't be used in the past tenses or future tenses
- We add "not" to make one negative
- We do not use "do/does/did" with these to make a question
How should we use them and what do they all mean?
- For a general summary, visit this helpful page.
CAN/COULD: to show ability (or lack of it)
I can ski, but my sister could ski when she was only three.
- For more information, visit this Perfect Grammar explanation.
- You can also find examples on this online page.
- To practice with these, try these (easy) exercises: Practice 1, Practice 2
CAN/COULD: to show option/ indicate a choice
You can either play hockey or ski this winter, if you are looking for a fun winter sport.
CAN/COULD/MAY: to show permission/ make a request
Can I borrow your pencil? (Informal)
Could I open the window? (More formal)
May I open the window? (Most formal)
- For more information, visit this explanation page, or this one.
- This Everyday Grammar video is also helpful.
- For practice, try these exercises: Practice 3, Practice 4
CAN: to show opportunity
We can get some great apples in Maine at this time of year.
SHOULD/OUGHT TO (and HAD BETTER): to show advisability/ advice
You should stop smoking.
You ought to study more.
- Find more information here, here, or by watching this video. (animated and very simple)
- To get some practice, try this: Practice 5,
SHOULD/OUGHT TO: to show expectation
The bus should arrive soon. The schedule indicates that it will be here in 10 minutes.
SHOULD/COULD/MIGHT/SHALL: for suggestions
Shouldn't we close the window? It's getting cold.
You might want to study more.
Shall we go out to dinner tonight?
- For more information, read this very informative page.
- Here are some printable practice exercises for this.
WOULD LIKE: to show desire
I would like to go to Florida this winter.
Would you like to have some iced tea with your lunch?
- For more information and examples, visit this Cambridge page.
- For some basic practice, try this easy but useful exercise: Practice 8
MUST: to show an assumption/inference
It must be cold outside today. There is frost on my window.
- You will find some helpful printable exercises here (must./might/may).
MUST (and HAVE TO): to show necessity/obligation/prohibition
We must complete the bonus exercises before the test in order to earn the points.
You mustn't be late for class.
We have to study for the test.
WILL: to show a general truth, promise, or prediction (see "FUTURE FORMS" post for more information)
MAY/MIGHT/COULD: to show possibility
She might visit us tomorrow, if she has time.
You could finish your homework if you hurry and stay focused.
We may have pizza for dinner. We haven't decided, yet.
- For more information, visit this explanation and example page, or this one.
- To practice, try these exercises: Practice 10, Practice 11.
Where can I practice more with all of these?
- Practice 12
- Practice 13 (easier)
- Practice 14
- Practice 15
- Practice 16 (easier)
- Practice 17 (challenging!!)
- Practice 18