Modals in English, Modals Types, Modal Verbs and Example Sentences

Modals in English, Modals Types, Modal Verbs and Example Sentences

Modals in English

What Are Modals in English?

Modals (also known as modal verbs, modal auxiliary verbs, or modal auxiliaries) are English verbs that behave unusually. They’re not like regular verbs like “work, play, visit…” They add to the understanding of the function of the primary verb that follows. They can perform a wide range of communication operations.


Which Modal Verbs Are Popular?

Most linguists agree that there are 9 pure or core modals in English. These are:

  • Can
  • Could
  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Shall
  • Should
  • Will
  • Would


There are also semi-modals. These are:

  • Need (to)
  • Ought (to)
  • Used (to)
  • Dare (to)


When Are Modal Verbs Used?

Modal verbs are used to express functions such as:

  • Permission
  • Ability
  • Obligation
  • Prohibition
  • Lack of necessity
  • Advice
  • possibility
  • probability


Asking permission

Begin your query with the words can, may, or could if you wish to ask permission to accomplish anything. If you ask, “can I go to the bathroom?” it may be mistaken as “do I have the capacity to go to the bathroom?” In more formal and polite use, may be better for permission; if you ask, “can I go to the bathroom?” it could be misinterpreted as “do I have the ability to go to the bathroom?

  • May I use the toilet?
  • Could I play with you too?



The modal verb can indicate whether or not the subject is capable of doing an action or demonstrating an ability. Similarly, the negative form, cannot or can’t, expresses the subject’s inability to perform a task.

  • My grandmother can speak six languages, but two of them are not so good.
  • You can take a dog to the vet, but you can’t make him behave.



What if you only want to suggest something rather than order it? You may use the modal word should give comments or advice without ordering someone about it.

  • You should try the apple pie.
  • That guy should wear less perfume.


Obligation or necessity

A necessary activity, such as an obligation, responsibility, or necessity, can be expressed with modal verbs. Similarly, the negative form indicates that no action is required. Use the same modal verbs as directives, such as must, have to, or need to.

  • We don’t have to wait for our teacher to arrive at the class.
  • You don’t need to come if you don’t want to.



You may use the modal word would for the past tense and will for the present and future to express a continuing or habitual action—something the subject conducts regularly. If you’re talking about a habit that no longer exists, you can use the term used to.


  • When I lived alone, I would fall asleep by reading a book.
  • I will arrive early and leave late for every meeting.



If you wish to give someone orders, however, use the modal verbs must, have to, or need to.

  • You must wash your hands after coming back home.
  • You need to be here before 6:00.



Start your question with would, would, can, or could if you want to ask someone else to do anything.

  • Will you turn off the lights, please?
  • Would you take that vase off the table?