Verbal Ability - Modals and Usages
While other auxiliary verbs are used for expressing actions or helping main verbs in expressing actions, modals are special auxiliary verbs used to express opinions on an action, or possibility of an action happening.
Unlike other auxiliary verbs, modals can never be used as main verbs in any sentence. Also, many modals have present and past forms (can, could), (shall, should) etc., but the meanings and applications may completely vary.
List of Modals
- Can/could/be able to
- Must/have to
- Can, could, be able to
“Can” is used to express the ability of someone to perform an action in the present time. “Could” is used to express the ability of someone to perform an action in the past. In negative sentences, they follow this structure — “can/could” + “not”.
- Timma can run ten miles at a stretch.
- Justin can help you in your homework.
- Leena cannot meet us tonight.
- I could eat ten rolls in one seating earlier.
- Thomas could listen to songs for hours earlier
- He couldn’t win the race.
“Can/Could” is often used to indicate probability or the possibility of an action happening in the future. In such cases, “could” is more often used than “can”.
- I could invest in his business if he convinces me.
- I could give you a discount if you buy five cars.
- I can lend you some money if you promise to return it back.
The “can/could” structure is also used to ask for permission. In such cases, the “can/could” is used in question form. “Could” is a more polite form of asking for permission than “can”.
When giving permission, “can” is more often used than “could” and they are used in sentences. On the other hand, making questions with “can’t” increases the persuasion of the speaker.
Can you lend me your bike? (Asking for permission)
Yes, you can. (Giving permission).
Could I send you my resume’? (Asking for permission)
Yes, you can. (Giving permission).
Can’t you help me this one time? (Persuasive request)
Couldn’t you convince him to lend me his car? (Persuasive request)
Suggesting an idea
“Could” is also used to suggest an idea to someone.
- You could travel straight to Jatni without having to go to Puri first.
- You could go for custard; it is this restaurant’s house special.
Be able to
“Be able to” has a similar use as that of “can/could”. It is used to express the ability of someone to perform an action in the present time. In these cases, these are the structures they follow −
- “Am able to” with ‘I’.
- “Is able to” with “he, she, it” or with singular nouns.
- “Are able to” with “we, you, they” or with plural nouns.
“Be able to” is also used to express the ability of someone to perform an action in the past. In these cases, these are the structures they follow −
- “Was able to” with ‘I, he, she, it’ and singular nouns.
- “Were able to” with “we, you, they” or with plural nouns.
In negative cases, “be able to” uses a “not” after the “be”-form used in the sentence. In future sentences, “be able to” is used as it is with “will” before it. In case of negative future sentences, “be able to” uses “not” between “will” and “be able to”.
- Mike is not able to solve complicated Math equations.
- I am not able to control this boat.
- You weren’t able to catch the train as you started late.
- She wasn’t able to answer the phone.
- They are not able to give a suitable answer.
- I will be able to meet you tomorrow.
- He will not be able to keep his promise.
- Will he not be coming tomorrow?
- Was he not able to teach you horse-racing?
The “May/might” form is used to express the probability of an action happening in the future. In this case, “may” is considered to be a surer guess than “might”. They are also used in question-form to take permission.
Taking permission using “may/might” is considered to be far more polite than “can/could”.
- I may go to Ranchi tomorrow.
- It might rain this afternoon.
- May I ask a question?
- Might I make a request? (Asking permission using “Might” is now very rare)
In some cases, “may/might” is also used to make suggestions. In these cases, “may/might” are often used with “as well” −
- You may as well buy the entire bunch. It’s much more cost-effective.
- You might as well order for lunch. Breakfast’s too expensive here.
- You may try the kadi-chaawal; it’s tonight’s special dish.
- You may go for the family-pack. It will cover all four of you.
“Shall” and “should” might appear like present-past forms but have completely different applications. “Shall” is used as a substitute of “will” in sentence form while discussing formal matters, and is used as a way to make an offer in the question form.
“Shall” is used more commonly with “I/We”.
- Shall I order for a cab?
- Shall I book a ticket?
“Should” form is used to make suggestions, advices, and also share opinions. It is also used to sometimes give a future estimate of an event happening as per expectation. Two slightly more persuasive forms of “should” are “ought to” and “need to” where “need to” being the most persuasive of the three.
- The cake should be done by now.
- He should have reached his office by now.
- You should listen to your elders.
- I think you should go for the blue t-shirt.
Need to/Need not/Ought to
“Need to” is used to describe an action that is necessary to be carried out. When used in negative sentences, “need to” and “ought to” replace their “to” with “not”.
The classical negative form of “ought to” is “ought not to” and this form is still in use, so readers should note the options before answering questions related to this.
Another important point is that “ought to” follows the same grammatical rules as “need not” but its meaning is the same as “should” and is treated as a replacement of “should”.
- You need to study hard.
- He needs to rest now.
- You need not study hard.
- You should visit your relatives.
- You ought to visit your relatives.
- You ought not to visit your relatives. (This usage is very rare)
Must/Have to/Don’t have to
“Must” is used when the action is a high requirement. “Have to” is an extreme form of “must” where the action is compulsory. “Must” is also used to make a logical prediction, make a warning, and to persuade someone to conduct an action.
When used in negative sentences, “must” becomes “must not” and “have to” becomes “don’t have to” with “I, we, you, they” and plural nouns, and “doesn’t have to” with “he, she, it” and other singular nouns.
- You must talk in a low voice here. (Required action)
- You must be 18 years of age to participate in this game. (Required action)
- You must not have so much chocolate. (Warning)
- You must not disregard your doctor’s warnings. (Warning)
- You must try the shrimp here; it’s fabulous. (Persuasion)
- You must visit Ghaghara Falls atleast once in your life. (Persuasion)
- He is a doctor. He must be a serious man. (Logical prediction)
- He is a movie producer. He must have plenty of money (Logical prediction)
“Will” is used to speak of an action that is going to happen in the future. On the other hand, “would” is used differently; its usage is in recalling some incident that used to happen often in past. “Would” in this context, functions just like “used to”.
- I will go to work from Monday.
- She will leave for Ludhiana tomorrow.
- I will make some tea this evening.
- We would travel to Disneyland once every two years.
- We would go on long rides as teenagers.
“Will” and “Would” in the question form are used to make polite requests.
- Would you help me in this task?
- Would you pick up the package for me?