Modal Verbs

Modal verbs
Modal verbs

with this list, you will be able to understand the different functions Modal Verbs have. Examples, substituting verbs and expressions are also given.

1- Can – Could

•‎ Ability – John can speak English, but he 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 toHad 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

NB: 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)

Exercises on Modal Verbs


You might be also interested in



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.