Use of Modal Verbs

EnglishSentence Structure: Elements of Grammar


There are several kinds of modal verbs that function as auxiliaries. In this tutorial, you will learn the applications of modal verbs in English grammar, with examples to support you in better understanding the whole idea.

A specific category of verbs known as modals, modal verbs, and modal auxiliary verbs are used in English grammar. These verbs are applied in an irregular manner.

In English grammar, modal verbs are used to provide additional information about the primary verb's action.

Modal Verbs

Modal verbs often referred to as a helping verb in definitions. Modal verbs are used in communicating certain hypothetical situations, such as requests, advice, and capabilities. They are used along with the primary verb to bring a slight shift in its meaning.

Auxiliary verbs are not always capable of standing on their own as independent verbs.

The following are two examples that illustrate the difference−

  • I play football every Sunday

  • I can play football every Sunday.

First example is a basic factual statement. The speaker plays football every Sunday.

In the second example, the modal verb ‘can’ is used before the verb ‘play’. Take note of the way in which the meaning shifts gradually. The speaker does not play football every Sunday; he says he is capable of playing football every Sunday if needed. It’s hypothetical.

Types of Modal Auxiliaries

Modal auxiliary verbs provide meaning to the primary verb in a phrase. They are used in communicating obligations, possibilities, permissions, or abilities in a statement.

There are around 10 types of auxiliaries in English grammar which are listed below.


Can is a modal auxiliary verb that is most commonly used to express the capability of a person or object to do something, to depict the probability that something can happen, to make requests and offers, and to convey or seek permission to do something.

  • I can write with both my hands. (Ability)

  • Can you help me with the assignment? (Expressing willingness)

  • Mom, can I go to mini’s house, please? (Asking permission)


While making a request, asking for permission, expressing an uncertain possibility, offering a recommendation, or making an offer in a politer approach, the modal verb could be used.

  • Could you please pass me the table salt? (Polite request)

  • Could I please use your phone? (Polite permission)


The modal verb "may" is used to refer to events or circumstances that are either possible or might be possible. It is mostly used with those involving expressions of possibility and wishes, as well as giving permission.

  • She may be tired. (Possibility)

  • May God bless you. (Wish)

  • May I come in? (Permission)


The modal verb "might" be used most often in conditional phrases, in which it is used to represent near future possibilities, and to make recommendations or requests.

  • I might take a day off tomorrow. (A future possibility)

  • If I had tried a bit harder, I might have cleared the exam. (Conditional sentences)


The modal verb "might" is most often used to indicate obligations, deductions, and strong suggestions or advice.

  • If you are sick, you must visit a doctor (Strong necessity or obligation)

  • You must work hard to attain success (Advice)


The modal verb “shall” be used to express law-related ideas, used in the future tense to talk about something that will happen, in statements regarding promises and suggestions.

  • Shall I switch off the fan? (Suggestion)

  • You shall follow the given instructions below. (Rules or law)

  • Shall we go to a movie (Near-future possibility)

  • We shall meet after the vacation. (Promise)


The modal verb "should" is often used to convey a sense of duty, to provide an opinion or proposal, to make a suggestion, or to convey a preference or idea.

  • You should take a break. (Opinion)

  • I think you should inform the police. (Suggestion)

  • I should discuss it with my dad. (Preference)


The modal verb "will" is used to indicate the future, to demonstrate one's desire; to convey one's intention; to emphasise one's determination.

  • I will reach home by 10 p.m. (Expressing Future)

  • I will do it. (Expressing willingness)

  • I will finish it by evening itself. (Determination)


The modal verb "would" be used to demonstrate an offer, to make a request, or to show the future in the past.

  • Would you like to join us? (Offer)

  • She promised she would join us (Future in the past)

  • Would you please do me a favor? (Request)


The modal verb " ought to" is used for expressing what we appreciate or what we would like to see happen, as well as for giving advice or making suggestions.

  • The new restaurant is awesome, you ought to visit it once. (Recommendation)

  • Pilots ought to earn more. (Suggestion)

Use of Modal Verbs

  • Likelihood − There are a few things that have a good chance of happening, but we can't be certain. In situations like this, you can show the degree of probability without absolute certainty by using the modal verbs should and must.

  • Possibility − Modal verbs, such as could, may, and might, are used in contexts in which the occurrence of an event is possible but not guaranteed.

  • Ability − When used in a sentence, the modal verb "can" indicates whether the subject is capable of doing something, such as carrying out an action or displaying an ability. In the same manner, the negative form of a verb, such as cannot or can't, indicates that the subject is unable to carry out a certain action.

  • Asking permission − - In order to ask for permission to do something, you should begin your question with can, may, or could. "May" is considered a better usage traditionally. However, nowadays, both "may" and "can" are appropriate alternatives when indicating the possibility or permission

  • Request − if you wish to ask another person to do anything, you should begin your query with either can, could, will, or would.

  • Suggestion/Advice − You may use the modal word "should" when you are providing ideas or advice to someone without directly ordering them to do anything.

  • Command − If, on the other hand, you wish to give an order to another person, you should make use of the modal verbs have to, must, or need to.

  • Obligation or Necessity − Modal verbs may be used to represent actions that are required, such as obligations, duties, or requirements. Similarly, the negative form conveys the idea that an action is not required. Use the same modal verbs that are used while giving commands (must, have to, or need to.)

  • Habit − You can use the modal verb "would" to express an activity that is ongoing or habitual, something that the subject performs consistently you can use "will" to show an action that is going to happen in the future or in the present. If you are referring to a practice that is no longer practiced, you may also use the term "used to" in your sentence.


We hope that by the time you've finished reading this tutorial, you'll have a deeper comprehension of English Grammar. These are highly significant aspects of English grammar, and they must be mastered in order to be able to communicate effectively in the foreign language.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47