Grammar : Modals

Grammar : Modals – Expressing meaning in formal and informal short functional text, using oral text variety accurately and fluently in daily life context.

Learn about it!

Some people say it is not really important to learn English grammar, because what becomes more important is that you can communicate in English. But, how can we communicate in English properly if our English grammar is poor? Of course, learning grammar is as important as learning the other skills such as speaking and writing.However, it would be better if you learn grammar in context, not separately.

This lesson presents modal verbs as the topic. Modal verbs in English have large area for study. They can be different in function or meaning. Modals can be confusing as we can use individual verbs in many different ways. Let’s begin with a definition.

What is a modal verb?

We can use a modal to express a certain functions such as possibility, necessity, ability etc., or to make polite utterances. How to use a modal verb? The modal verb is the first verb in the verb phrase and is followed by the infinitive (without to) of the main verb.


For further understanding, read the following explanation.

  • Modal: Can
    Example: Cheetahs can run really fast
    Use: ability
  • Modal: Can
    Example: Can I use the toilet? ; Can you help me?
    Use: asking for permission; request
  • Modal: Cannot/ Can’t
    Example: I can’t lend you my laptop
    Use: inability
  • Modal: Could
    Example: Could I borrow your phone?; Could you explain it again more slowly? ; You could go to the office by bus.
    Use: Asking for permission ; Request ; Suggestion
  • Modal: May

    Example: May I turn off the light?
    Use: Asking for permission

  • Modal: Might
    Example: They might be at the library now.
    Use: Possibility
  • Modal: Must
    Example: We must go now. It’s going to rain.
    Use: Necessity / Obligation
  • Modal: Shall
    Example: (More common in the UK than the US) Shall we dance? ; Shall we meet at 4.30?
    Use: Offer ; Suggestion
  • Modal: Should
    Example: You should study harder; I think we should go an hour earlier.
    Use: Give advice/suggestion
  • Modal: Will
    Example: I will go to my hometown by train; I’ll be glad to help you
    Use: Make plan ; Offer
  • Modal: Would
    Example: Would you mind if I come a little bit late? ; Would you pass the sugar please? ; I would like a cup of tea ; I would like more ice please ; Would you like to play golf this Friday?
    Use: Asking for permission; Request; Invitation

Instructions and requests:

We use could you and would you as polite ways of telling or asking someone to do something:

Could you hold the door please?
Would you turn off the radio please?
Could I have more sugar please?

Can and will are less polite:

Can you hold the door please?
Will you turn off the radio please?


We use should to make suggestions and give advice:

You should take the test.
We should wait until the rain stops.

We use could to make suggestions:

We could go to the movie this Sunday.
You could stay at my house until your mother picks you up.


  • Do not add –s/es to the verb if there is a modal verb beforehand.
    He can makes a paper plane. (wrong)
    He can make a paper plane. (correct)
  • Do not connect the verb and modal verb with ‘to’
    They can to take bus to school. (wrong)
    They can take bus to school. (correct)
  • If the modal verb is in past form, the verb after that must be in present form
    They could came to my house anytime. (wrong)
    They could come to my house anytime. (correct)

Remember this is a quick summary to help you understand about the rules and how to apply them. It is worth checking for more detailed information in your grammar book.

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