Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are very important in English.

They are used to support main verbs and have specific (sometimes 2 or 3 meanings).

Let's do an walk-through of the attributes of the verbs.

1.-   They are verbs.

2.-   They are not the 'main' verb of a sentence.

3.-   They give a specific meaning to a sentence.

4.-   They do not have continuous or past forms.

5.-   The verb which follows them ('main verb') is in its simple form (no -s/-es)

6. -  They do not change form for different subjects.

Let's look at a sentence using a modal  'CAN'  Can describes 'ability' in this sentence.


This follows the rules:

  1. - Can is also a verb.
  2. The main verb is 'swim'
  3. It gives the specific meaning 'ability'
  4. There is no continuous or past forms.
  5. The verb which follows (swim) is in it simple form.
  6. I, he, she, it, we, you, they, all use the same form (can).

Some modal verbs we will use to demonstrate:

Will (future)  We will have lunch at 1pm.   

(will = future, have = simple, 1pm indicates time in the future).

 Could (possibility)  I think it could be raining. Have you looked outside? 

 (could = possible, be = to be simple form).

 Could (past ability) When I was 10 I could ride a bike

 (When I was 10 = past time, could = past ability, ride = simple verb).

Could (polite request)  Could you please open the door for me

(could = request, open = simple verb)

 Can (possibility)  It can be very cold in the winter

(can = possibility, be = simple verb).

  Can (offer) Can I help you

 (can = offer, help = simple verb).

Can(polite request) Can you help me?

(can = request, help = simple verb).

Can(permission)  Can we go out to play? Yes, but be careful.   

(can = permission, go = simple verb).

Should (advice)  I think you should choose your major carefully.     

(should = advice, choose = simple verb).

Should (suggestion) I think we should go and see a movie. Who agrees?   

(should = suggestion, go = simple verb).

Must (obligation) To travel abroad you must have a passport.     

(must = obligation, have = simple verb).

May (possibility now or in the future)  It may rain tomorrow.     

(may = possibility, rain = simple verb).

May (polite offer) May I take your coat

(may = offer, take = simple verb).

Might (possibility now or in the future) I might have a cold. I don't feel well.   

( might = possibility, have = simple verb).

Shall is another modal which is becoming old-fashioned, so I am not going to include it.

We also have what I call 'modal expressions'

They function in the same way as modals, but they have 2 differences.

1.-  They have the verb plus another 'particle'

2.-  They change with the subject.

Modal expressions:

Have to,  don't have to, need to,  ought to, had better.

Have to (obligation)  I, we, you, they have to pass my exams to get into university.

(have to = obligation, pass = simple verb)

Has to (obligation)  He, she,  has to be home at 8pm

(has to = obligation, be = simple verb)

Has to (obligation)  It has to be raining and sunny to see a rainbow.

(has to = obligation, be =simple verb)

Need to (obligation) I, we, you, they need to pass a test to drive legally.

(need to = necessary, pass = simple verb)

Needs to (obligation) He, she needs to be 18 years old to drink alcohol.

(needs to = necessary, be = simple verb)

Needs to (obligation) It needs to go to the 3rd floor.

(needs to = necessary, go = simple verb)

I have separated the Subjects into groups:  I,we,you,they.  He,she,  & It. This is because the form of the verb changes depending on which subject group is used.

Had better, and ought to are modal expressions which are less used and will not be covered in this lesson.

Please complete the exercises in the documents.

Have To
Have to
Could Requests
Could Requests

This is the end of the course. Please use this course to practice your basic grammar, and also get your teacher to explain to you, anything which you do not understand.

There will be another course for High beginner to intermediate levels soon.

Thank you very much.