Modals - Definitions, Uses and examples

May 21, 2023 - 17:58
May 22, 2023 - 13:46
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Modals - Definitions, Uses and examples
Modals - Definitions, Uses and examples

 Modals or Modal Auxiliaries

Modals are a special group of verbs used to express ability, permission, suggestion, possibility, intention, etc. Modals modify the main verb in a sentence and help convey different shades of meaning and nuance. 

The most commonly used modals in English are:

1.     Can: It expresses ability, permission, or possibility. Example: "She can swim."

2.     Could: It is the past tense form of "can" and is used to express ability or possibility in the past. Example: "I could run faster when I was younger."

3.     May: It indicates possibility or permission. Example: "You may borrow my book."

4.     Might: It expresses possibility or uncertainty. Example: "I might go to the party tonight."

5.     Must: It indicates obligation or necessity. Example: "You must complete your homework."

6.     Shall: It is used to express future actions or suggestions. Example: "Shall we go for a walk?"

7.     Should: It expresses advice, recommendation, or obligation. Example: "You should eat healthy food."

8.     Will: It indicates future actions or intentions. Example: "I will help you with your project."

9.     Would: It is often used to express polite requests or to talk about hypothetical situations. Example: "Would you like some tea?"

10.  Ought to: It expresses moral obligation or duty. Example: "You ought to apologize for your mistake."

Here is a list of some important modals with their uses and some examples: 





       To talk about ability

       To ask for and grant permission to do something in a friendly manner

        To talk about what we are allowed to do

        I can bat well.

        Can I borrow your colour pencils? Yes, you can.

        Dad says I can borrow his tie for tonight’s party.

Cannot/ can’t

        To talk about inability

       To deny permission to do something

        To talk about what one is not allowed to do

        I can’t bat well.

        Can I borrow your colour pencils? No, you can’t borrow my colour pencils.

        Dad says I can’t borrow his tie for tonight’s party.


        To seek and grand permission

        To talk about something that is possible

        To express wishes and blessings

        May I come in? Yes, you may.

        Rehan may like the pasta I’ve made.

       May your journey be a safe one.

May not / mayn’t

        To refuse permission

        To talk about something that is possible


        May I come in? No, you mayn’t.

        Rehan may like the pasta but Abir may not.


        To politely talk about something that is not the right thing to do

         You should greet your elders every morning.

Should not/ shouldn’t

        To politely talk about something that is not the right thing to do

        You shouldn’t be unkind to anybody.


        To express the absolute need to do something

        You must see a doctor at once or your wound will fester.

Must not/ mustn’t

        To express the absolute need to do something

        You mustn’t ignore the wound you have. You must see a doctor immediately.


        To ask for permission

        To express an ability

        Could I leave a bit early today.

        I could help you out with this.

Could not/ couldn’t

        To deny permission

        To express inability

        You couldn’t leave early today. I need you for some work here.

        I couldn’t help you out with this.

Ought to   

        To give a strong suggestion

        You ought to listen to her when she tries to confide in you about her trouble.

Oughtn’t to

To express the need to not do something

        You oughtn’t to be so late when you have a flight to catch



To express a weak possibility

        I might turn up at the party after all.

Might not/ mightn’t

To talk about something that may not happen, in a weak manner

        Surbhi might not come for the picnic.

 Here are some different categories of modals with examples:

  1. Modals of Ability:

    • Can: She can play the piano.
    • Could: I could swim when I was younger.
  2. Modals of Permission:

    • May: May I use your phone?
    • Can: Can I go to the party?
  3. Modals of Possibility:

    • Might: It might rain later.
    • Could: We could win the game.
  4. Modals of Obligation:

    • Must: You must attend the meeting.
    • Have to: I have to finish my homework.
  5. Modals of Prohibition:

    • Must not: You must not smoke in here.
    • Cannot: You cannot park in that area.
  6. Modals of Advice:

    • Should: You should exercise regularly.
    • Ought to: You ought to apologize to her.
  7. Modals of Requests:

    • Would: Would you pass me the salt, please?
    • Could: Could you help me with this?
  8. Modals of Intention:

    • Will: I will visit you tomorrow.
    • Shall: Shall we go for a walk?
  9. Modals of Certainty:

    • Will: She will definitely win the competition.
    • Must: It must be raining outside.
  10. Modals of Deduction:

    • May: He may be busy right now.
    • Might: They might have already left.

Practice the use of common modals with the help of the phrases: 

Can/ can't

  • see clearly
  • play football
  • speak english 
  • fly kite
  • drive car
  • climb a mountain

Must/ mustn't

  • obey traffic rules
  • save water 
  • save electicity 
  • stop at red light
  • buy stale fruits
  • honk loudly

Should/ shouldn't

  • think too much
  • take rest
  • do homework
  • exercise regularly
  • eat candies
  • watch television etc.

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Madhuri Mahto I am self dependent and hard working. Knowledge sharing helps to connect with others , It is a way you can give knowledge without any deprivation.