We use modal verbs for:
Modal verbs follow rules:
- We use the bare infinitive after a modal verb.
- You cannot use 2 modal verbs in a row.
- The modal verb is used as the auxiliary verb in questions and in short answers.
The meaning of modal verbs:
|can||to express ability||I can speak a little English.|
|can||to request permission||Can I have a drink of water, please?|
|may||to express possibility||I may miss the train.|
|may||to request permission||May I wash my hands, please?|
|may||To express probability||He may win the race at this rate.|
|must||to express obligation||I must study more.|
|must||to express strong belief||She must be very wealthy.|
|should||to give advice||You should do more exercise.|
|would||to request or offer||Would you like a cup of tea?|
|would||in if-sentences||If I were you, I would take a break.|
|could||To express past ability||I could swim when I was 6 years old.|
|could||To express possibility||It could be a good idea.|
|Might||To express possibility||It might help you find a job.|
There are two types of modal verb:
- Modal verbs: We normally use the bare infinitive (verb without to) after the modal. For instance: I should study more. I can play the flute.
- Semi-modals: We sometimes use the full infinitive. For example: I ought to go. I have to learn more vocabulary to become fluent.
As we cannot use two modal verbs together, we usually use a modal verb + a semi-modal verb:
Study the example; we must
can listen and take notes at the same time in the exam. It should be we must be able to listen and take notes at the same time in the exam.
Study the semi-modal expressions here
It is important to understand that there are similar expressions that are synonyms or have a very similar meaning to some modal verbs.
Can (ability) = be able to, be capable of, know how to
May (permission) = be permitted, be allowed, let, be ok, might, could, be able to
Must (obligation) = be required, be essential, have to, be obliged, be obligatory
Can’t (prohibition) = mustn’t, be forbidden, be prohibited, be against the rules / not be able to etc.
Should (advice) = be advisable, be recommended, be a good idea, ought to. had better
Needn’t (lack of necessity) = not have to, not need to, not be necessary
Modal perfect: talking about an unreal past
MODAL VERB + HAVE + PARTICIPLE
I should have learnt English as a child = I didn’t learn English as a child
You might have told me that you were going to be late = You didn’t tell me
He could have listened to the instructions = He didn’t listen to the instructions
Study the modal perfect here
Modal verbs are very easy to use and they are used as the auxiliary in a question, like:
Can you show me the way to the beach?
Must we do all the exercises for homework?
Should we do more listening practice before the exam?
For extra practice with modal verbs, click HERE