In English grammar, a modal is a type of auxiliary verb that is used to indicate modality, which expresses the speaker’s attitude toward the action or state described by the main verb. Modals Modal Verbs in English Grammar by Sunil Chaudhary, Digital Success Coach

Modals Modal Verbs English Grammar | TAMS Studies

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List of Modals with Brief Explanation

  • can: indicates ability, permission, or possibility
  • could: past form of can, indicating ability in the past or possibility in the present or future
  • may: indicates possibility or permission
  • might: indicates possibility or possibility in the past
  • must: indicates necessity or strong obligation
  • should: indicates advisability or expectation
  • will: indicating future
  • would: indicating past or hypotheticals
  • shall: indicating future, most commonly used in British English, used with the first person I or We
  • should: indicating desirability or propriety

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Definitions of Modals

Modal verbs are used before the base form of the main verb, which is the infinitive without “to.” for example, “I can swim,” “You must leave,” “She should study,” and “They will come.”

Modals can also be used with other modals to form more complex meanings. For example, “You might could do that” means “It is possible that you are able to do that.”

Modals are used to express the speaker’s attitude toward the action or state described by the main verb, such as ability, possibility, necessity, or expectation. They do not change form based on the subject like the other verbs, they remain the same.

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Examples of Modals

can:

  1. I can swim well.
  2. Can you help me with this?
  3. He can play the piano beautifully.
  4. We can go to the park if you want.
  5. They can speak three languages.

could:

  1. I could swim when I was five.
  2. Could you repeat that?
  3. He could have won the race if he hadn’t been injured.
  4. We could have a picnic if the weather is nice.
  5. They could be at the library studying.

may:

  1. I may go to the concert tonight.
  2. May I borrow your pen?
  3. He may be late for the meeting.
  4. We may have to change our plans.
  5. They may not agree with you.

might:

  1. I might go to the concert tonight.
  2. She might be at home.
  3. He might have forgotten his keys.
  4. They might be planning a surprise party.
  5. We might need to leave early.

must:

  1. I must finish this report by 5 pm.
  2. You must be careful when handling knives.
  3. He must be very tired, he’s been working all day.
  4. We must be respectful of other people’s opinions.
  5. They must have a lot of money, they just bought a new house.

should:

  1. I should study for my exam.
  2. You should get some rest if you’re feeling tired.
  3. He should be here by now.
  4. We should take an umbrella it might rain.
  5. They should be finishing up their project soon.

will:

  1. I will see you tomorrow.
  2. Will you be at the party tonight?
  3. He will finish the project on time.
  4. We will have to leave early.
  5. They will be arriving at the airport at 9 pm.

would:

  1. I would like to order a coffee, please.
  2. She would be happy to help you.
  3. He would have graduated last year, but he failed the final exam.
  4. We would have gone to the concert if we had known about it.
  5. They would have finished the project by now if they had started earlier.

shall:

  1. I shall be back by 6 pm.
  2. We shall go for a walk after lunch.
  3. He shall stay with us for a week.
  4. They shall be sending the documents tomorrow.
  5. You shall not pass!

should:

  1. You should leave the party early if you have to work tomorrow
  2. I should be studying for my exam instead of procrastinating
  3. One should always be respectful to their elders
  4. They should be here by now.
  5. we should exercise regularly for a healthy lifestyle.

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Negative Examples of Modals in the English Language

can’t:

  1. I can’t swim well.
  2. Can’t you help me with this?
  3. He can’t play the piano beautifully.
  4. We can’t go to the park if you want.
  5. They can’t speak three languages.

couldn’t:

  1. I couldn’t swim when I was five.
  2. Couldn’t you repeat that?
  3. He couldn’t have won the race even if he hadn’t been injured.
  4. We couldn’t have a picnic because of the bad weather
  5. They couldn’t be at the library studying.

may not:

  1. I may not go to the concert tonight.
  2. May I not borrow your pen?
  3. He may not be late for the meeting.
  4. We may not have to change our plans.
  5. They may not agree with you.

might not:

  1. I might not go to the concert tonight.
  2. She might not be at home.
  3. He might not have forgotten his keys.
  4. They might not be planning a surprise party.
  5. We might not need to leave early.

mustn’t:

  1. I mustn’t finish this report by 5 pm.
  2. You mustn’t be careful when handling knives.
  3. He mustn’t be very tired, he’s been working all day.
  4. We mustn’t be respectful of other people’s opinions.
  5. They mustn’t have a lot of money, they just bought a new house.

shouldn’t:

  1. I shouldn’t study for my exam.
  2. You shouldn’t get some rest if you’re feeling tired.
  3. He shouldn’t be here by now.
  4. We shouldn’t take an umbrella it might not rain.
  5. They shouldn’t be finishing up their project soon.

won’t:

  1. I won’t see you tomorrow.
  2. Won’t you be at the party tonight?
  3. He won’t finish the project on time.
  4. We won’t have to leave early.
  5. They won’t be arriving at the airport at 9 pm.

wouldn’t:

  1. I wouldn’t like to order a coffee, please.
  2. She wouldn’t be happy to help you.
  3. He wouldn’t have graduated last year, even if he passed the final exam.
  4. We wouldn’t have gone to the concert even if we had known about it.
  5. They wouldn’t have finished the project by now even if they had started earlier.

shan’t:

  1. I shan’t be back by 6 pm.
  2. We shan’t go for a walk after lunch.
  3. He shan’t stay with us for a week.
  4. They shan’t be sending the documents tomorrow.
  5. You shan’t pass!

shouldn’t:

  1. You shouldn’t leave the party early if you have to work tomorrow
  2. I shouldn’t be studying for my exam instead of procrastinating
  3. One shouldn’t always be disrespectful to their elders
  4. They shouldn’t be here by now.
  5. We shouldn’t neglect to exercise regularly for a healthy lifestyle.

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Modal verbs have many uses beyond the ones I listed earlier. Here are a few examples of exceptional uses of modals in English:

  • Emphasis: Modals can be used to add emphasis to a statement. For example, “I will definitely be there” or “I must apologize for my behaviour.”
  • Hedging: Modals can be used to express uncertainty or probability. For example, “The meeting may take place next week” or “It could be a good idea to speak with a professional.”
  • Hypotheticals: Modals can be used to describe hypothetical or unreal situations. For example, “If I won the lottery, I would buy a house on the beach” or “He said he would come, but he hasn’t yet.”
  • Probability: Modals can be used to express the likelihood of an event occurring. For example, “It will probably rain later” or “She might be at home.”
  • Ability in the Past: “could” used to indicate that in the past, the subject had the ability to do something, but may not have that ability anymore or they might have had that ability but they chose not to. For example, “I couldn’t speak Chinese when I was younger” or “I could have been a doctor, but I chose to be a teacher.”
  • Polite request/ Suggestion: “Could” or “Would” are used to make polite requests or suggestions, “Could you please pass me the salt” or “Would you like to come to the party with me?”
  • Requests or Orders: “Will” and “Shall” are used to make requests or give orders, “Will you please help me move this couch” or “Shall we begin the meeting now?”
  • Permission: “May” is used to ask for permission, “May I use your restroom” or “May I borrow your pen?”
  • Certainty or inevitability: “must” is used to indicate something that is certain or inevitable, “The flowers must be watered every day” or “The meeting must start on time.”

These are just a few examples of the many uses of modal verbs in English. They are quite versatile and can be used in many different ways to express different attitudes or emotions.

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Here are some important points to remember when using modal verbs in English:

  • Modal verbs are always followed by the base form of the main verb (the infinitive without “to”). For example, “I can swim,” not “I can swim.”
  • Modal verbs do not change form based on the subject, unlike other verbs. They remain the same regardless of whether the subject is singular or plural, or whether the subject is first, second, or third person.
  • Modals express the speaker’s attitude or emotion towards the action or state described by the main verb, such as ability, possibility, necessity, or expectation.
  • Modals are often used to indicate probability or uncertainty, so it’s important to pay attention to the context and to the modal verb you are using to understand the intended meaning.
  • Modals can also be used to make polite requests or suggestions or give polite orders, it’s important to know when to use which modal and how to structure the sentence when making a request or giving orders.
  • Be careful when using modals in the past tense, as the form of the modal may change. For example, “can” becomes “could” in the past, and “will” becomes “would.”
  • Some modals like ‘shall’ are commonly used in British English, but it’s not as common in American English.
  • Modals are also used to indicate ability in the past, but this is not the same as past tense, for example ‘I couldn’t swim when I was five’ means that you couldn’t swim then but you can now, whereas ‘I didn’t swim’ means you didn’t swim in the past, and you are not swimming now.
  • Keep in mind that modals can be used in many ways and to express a variety of meanings, so it’s important to pay attention to the context and practice using them in different situations.

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Cheers
Sunil Chaudhary
Digital Success Coach

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