Modal verbs

Modal verbs

Modal verbs 

The verb, as the basis of any sentence, must be there, otherwise the sentence simply will not be. There are many verbs in the English language, their types are frightening with their diversity, and the thought of how to remember them all is even more frightening. But, if you don’t have to deal with some kinds and types, then modal verbs are just a must-have for a modern person who studies English. 

Modal verbs are the kind of verbs that help express the speaker's attitude to any action. That is, the modal verb should be used in tandem with another, since it has practically no own meaning. 

Yes, this is another kind of verbs to remember. They will help voice a request or a rule, ask permission or give advice. 



A verb meaning "to be able to". It can be called the most common and frequently used modal verb. Because it is strong by definition, it will form the interrogative and negative forms on its own. Speaking of forms, we note its insufficiency, since it does not have a form of the future tense. 

The verb is used to express the possibility of performing an action: 

  • Can you go to the other room and leave us alone?  
  • I have already said him that I can’t sing, but he keeps telling me to join choir.  
  • She definitely can swim very well.  

The past tense form is could. Sentences with this form express a possible action in the past that could have happened, but did not happen. 

  • Yesterday I could go to the concert but I had no free time.  
  • Could you tell this to me earlier?  
  • He couldn’t visit his grandparents last month so he’s going to do it tomorrow.  


Be able to 

It is mainly used to form expressions with the verb can in the future tense, since it does not have its own form. The verb literally means "to be able to do something". It can be used in the present and past tenses (inflected in the form of the regular verb to be), but only to express someone's ability to do something, or that he succeeded in doing it. 

  • We will be able to speak English after a year of hard practice.  
  • They are able to walk there, but why didn’t they?  
  • Luckily, I was able to buy that plane ticket on time.  



The verb expresses probability and helps build sentences in which we ask permission to do something. It, like can, has only present and past (might) forms and forms a negative one on its own with the help of the not particle. 

  • I may not understand you in a right way, so please correct me if needed.  
  • May I pour some juice from the fridge?  
  • It might be very cold in the evening, put on a sweater.  



Must is used in the sense of "have to". It can be called a very strict modal verb, since with the help of it we talk about rules, forced actions or confidence in action. It has no past or future tenses, only negative. 

  • You must do your homework, otherwise you will get a bad grade.  
  • They must wear a uniform at school! 
  • She must be happy getting good news. 
  • You must not run near the road. 


Have to 

This verb is very similar in meaning to the previous one, and can be used as a substitute for it in the future or past tense, but it can also be translated as "must". This means that in an independent form it will be used if the action "has to be done against one's will". The verb can be inflected for person and number, like the normal form of have. 

  • I had to do the presentation on my own.  
  • She will have to go to another town for work.  



Used to describe a moral obligation, advice or instruction. 

  • We should buy him a good present for his birthday.  
  • You shouldn’t go there without me. It is dangerous 
  • You should heat the water first and then add it to the bowl.  


Ought to 

Like the previous one, it can be used in the meaning of “should / must”, but is used much less frequently. This verb has only one form, and when forming a negation, the particle is added to the first word and can be reduced according to the usual scenario. 

  • They ought to tell their manager about this situation.  


Shall & will 

These verbs are both auxiliary for future tenses and modal at the same time. The first is used to offer something, and the second to insist on something. 

  • Shall I order this book for you? 
  • Will you please shut up? 


«Be to» as a modal verb 

Similar in meaning to must, and is used to express a commitment. We will use this verb when we talk about scheduled actions, predefined actions, as well as the impossibility of an action or a ban. 

  • The train is to leave in 20 minutes. Hurry up! 
  • That boy was to become the most successful surgeon of this city. 



Most often used to express polite requests and suggestions. It can also express actions that happened in the past that are not happening now, as well as used to. 

  • Would you like a piece of cake with your tea? 
  • I would watch this TV show when I was younger. 


Semi-modal verbs 

Depending on the construction of the sentence, so-called semi-modal verbs may appear in it. They can act as a main or modal verb. 



Indicates the need to perform an action. The negative form is formed as usual, but there is no interrogative form. 

  • I neednt to buy that much noodles today. 
  • She needs more time. 



Translated as "to take a risk" or "to dare" to do something. As a semantic verb, it means the same thing, without requiring the use of auxiliary ones. 

  • You dare to be late for work again! 
  • How dare he not to tell me that he’s leaving? 


Used to 

Whether it is modal is still a mystery to the scientific community, since there is no consensus. This verb is used only to express actions that took place in the past.  

  • She used to eat a lot of ice cream. (But now she doesn’t)  



Used to allow or permit. Stores meanings as a semantic and modal verb.  

  • Let them decide by themselves. 
  • Let her go. 



The use of modal verbs may vary with tense, but not with number. Also, most often after them, the infinitive without the to particle will be used. The only exceptions are verbs that already have a particle and need, after which it is allowed to use the infinitive with the particle to. Modal verbs do not have a gerund form and do not require auxiliary verbs in most cases. But everywhere there are exceptions, so you should carefully learn the rules!