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Modal Verbs

 

There are 9 main modal verbs in English which have many different functions. Here are just a few of the common uses:


ModalExampleFunction
Can I can swim.present ability
We can watch TV.permission
Paris can be very hot.occasional possibility
Could I could swim.past ability
We could watch TV.past permission
We could go out.making suggestions
It could rain laterfuture possibility
Might It might rain later.future possibility
He might be French.present possibility
May You may watch TV.permission
It may rain later.possibility
Must I must go home.obligation
He must be angry.deduction
Will I'll answer the phone.spontaneous decision
He'll be late.prediction
I'll kill him!threat/promise
I'll help you.offer
Would I'd never kill someone.hypothesising
I'd often watch TV.past habits
Shall Shall we go home?making suggestions
I shall be late.prediction (formal)
Should You should rest.advice
He should be asleep.expectation

Note: the negatives don't always mean the exact opposite of the positive forms. You can learn more about this on the pages for the different functions.


Common Problems


You can never use two modal verbs together.

I will must stop smoking before I'm 30. X

Fortunately, most modal verbs have expressions with a similar meaning which you can use instead.

I will have to stop smoking before I'm 30.


After a modal verb we use an infinitive without 'to'.

I must to go home now. X

I must go home now.

However, many similar expressions are used with 'to'.

I ought to go home now. ( = should go)

I have to go home now. ( = must go)

I used to eat lots of cake. ( = would eat)

I 'm not allowed to drink beer. ( = can't drink)



Next Lesson: Modals of ability

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