Modal Verbs 101

Modal Verbs

Modal Verbs 101: Everything You Need to Know

Are you looking to learn more about modal verbs and how to use them correctly? Then you’ve come to the right place! Our “Modal Verbs 101: Everything You Need to Know” post will provide an overview of modal verbs, including their definition, uses, substituting verbs, and examples. You’ll also get five concise tips to help you remember them. So, if you’re ready to learn modal verbs, let’s begin!


1- Can – Could

•‎ Ability – John can speak English but can’t speak Spanish.‎

‎•‎ Ability (in the past) – My mother could swim when she was younger.‎

‎•‎ Possibility – I can learn English.‎

‎•‎ Permission – Can I go out, please?‎

‎•‎ Offer – Can I help you, madam? ‎

‎•‎ Request – Could you bring me a cup of tea, please?‎

Substituting verb

‎•‎ To be able to

‎•‎ To be capable of

‎•‎ To be (im)possible to

‎•‎ To be allowed to

2- May – Might

‎•‎ Permission (politeness) – May I open the window, please?‎

‎•‎ Possibility – The chauffeur may be in the car.‎

‎ Susan may not come tomorrow.‎

‎ You might participate in the contest.‎

‎•‎ Probability – It might rain.‎

Substituting verb

•‎ To be allowed to

‎•‎ To be likely to

‎•‎ To be probable to

‎•‎ Perhaps… will

3- Will – Would

•‎ Requests (more polite) – Would you mind closing the door? ‎

‎•‎ Determination/intention – I will pass the exam.‎

Substituting verb

‎•‎ To want

‎•‎ To desire

‎•‎ To be determined to

4 – Shall – Should

‎•‎ Offer – Shall I open the door for you?‎

‎•‎ Suggestion – Shall we go to the cinema?‎

‎•‎ Advice – You should eat more vegetables.‎

Substituting verb

‎•‎ Do you want…?‎

‎•‎ Let’s

‎•‎ To have to (morally)‎

‎•‎ To be the (moral) duty

‎•‎ ‎… Would better…‎

5 – Must/‎Have to – Had to

‎•‎ Obligation/duty – You must do your homework, whether you want to ‎or not.‎

‎•‎ Deduction – He has a great car. He must earn a lot of money.‎

‎•‎ Necessity – You must go to the doctor if you can’t see well.‎

Substituting verb

‎•‎ To have to

‎•‎ To be obliged to

‎•‎ To have the obligation

‎•‎ To be certain

6 – Mustn’t

‎•‎ Prohibition – You mustn’t cross the road when the red light is on.‎

Substituting verb

•‎ To be forbidden

‎•‎ To be prohibited to

7 – Ought to

•‎ Recommendation/moral obligation – You ought to study more.‎

Substituting verb

•‎ To have to

8 – Need/Needn’t‎

‎•‎ ‎(Absence of) obligation/necessity – You needn’t run. It’s still early.‎

Substituting verb

‎•‎ To be necessary

‎•‎ Don’t need to

‎•‎ Don’t have to

9 – Dare ‎

‎•‎ Audacity or lack of it – How dare you?/He daren’t look at me.‎

Substituting verb

‎•‎ To have the courage to

Sometimes Modal Verbs can express PAST FUNCTIONS. The structure, therefore, is MODAL VERB + HAVE + PAST PARTICIPLE

  • Tom is late. He may/could/might have missed the bus (Possibility/Probability in the past)
  • Tom is late. He must have missed the bus again(certainty in the past)
  • He can’t have committed the crime because he was with me at that time (an impossibility in the past)

5 Tips on how to Use and remember modal verbs

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice: The best way to learn and remember modal verbs is to use them in real-life situations. Try incorporating them into your daily conversations, writing, and speaking exercises.
  2. Understand the Meaning: Make sure to understand the meaning and context of each modal verb. This will help you to use them correctly and express your ideas effectively.
  3. Pay Attention to Verb Forms: Modal verbs have specific forms you must know. Make sure to understand the base form, past form, and negative form of each modal verb.
  4. Study Context: Practice using modal verbs in different contexts, such as making requests, giving advice, making predictions, and expressing ability.
  5. Use Visual Aids: Use mnemonics, flashcards, and visual aids to help you remember the different modal verbs. Try to associate each modal verb with a memorable image or phrase.



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