#EngClass: Modal Verbs

In today’s discussion on modal verbs, we’ll talk about the following points:

  • What are modal verbs?
  • How are modal verbs different from normal verbs?
  • What modal verbs are there in English?
  • What do modal verbs express?
  • How to use modal verbs?

What are modal verbs?

Modal verbs are special verbs which behave very irregularly in English. They behave very differently from normal verbs. Modal verbs modify main verbs which are positioned next to them.

How are modal verbs different from normal verbs?

Verb is the part of speech that expresses existence, action or occurrence. And the following are the differences that modal verbs have from normal verbs:

  1. Modal verbs do not take “-s” in the third person.
    • Example:
      She can sing very well.
      He should take a seat.
  2. We use “not” to make modal verbs negative, even in Simple Present and Simple Past.
    • Example:
      She might not call you tonight.
      We should not be here.
  3. Modal verbs are followed directly by another verb.
    • Example:
      He must finish his work soon.
      She will be home at 7 pm.
  4. They make questions by inversion.
    • Example:
      Affirmative: She can go…
      Interrogative: Can she go… ?
  5. Many modal verbs cannot be used in the past tenses or the future tenses.
    • Example:
      Wrong: He will can go with us.
      Wrong: She musted study very hard.

What do modal verbs express?

We use modal verbs to express various things, such as:

  1. We use “can” and “could” to talk about a skill or ability.
    • Example:
      He can build a house.
  2. We use “can”, “could” and “might” to talk about possibility and impossibility.
    • Example:
      We might get there at 9.30.
  3. We use “must”, “could”, “should” and “ought to” to say when something is necessary or unnecessary, whether it is an obligation.
    • Example:
      They must not be late to school.
  4. We use “could”, “should” and “ought to” to give advice.
    • Example:
      She should speak louder.
  5. We use “can”, “could” and “may” to ask for and give permission. We use them to say something is not allowed.
    • Example:
      He may not leave the house tonight.
  6. We use “will” and “would” to talk about habits or things we usually do or did in the past.
    • Example:
      You will always be in my heart.

What modal verbs are there in English?

Here’s a list of them:

Can                    Could                 Must

Should              May                    Might

Will                   Would                Shall

Ought to

Last but but not least,…

How do we use modal verbs?

  • Modal verb is followed directly by the infinitive of another verb.


  • To form a negative statement, “not” is added right after modal verb, right before the main verb.


  • We form an interrogative statement by inversion. Reverse the word structure by inverting the subject and the verb.


Sya: However, some also say that “need” is also often considered as modal.

Nowadays, this is not a common practice. Some would call “need” a semi-modal. Some other would think it’s outdated and formal.

“Need”, as a semi-modal, is mostly used in the negative form. It is to say that there is no obligation or necessity to do something. Example:

  • She need not thank me.

Notice how “need” does not take -s, and the verb which follows is a bare infinitive.

That’s a wrap for today’s discussion on “modal verbs”. In-depth discussions on each and every modals will be shared in the coming weeks.

Also check out past discussions on “modal verbs”, titles are listed below.

Compiled and written by @miss_qiak for @EnglishTips4U on Wednesday, January 11, 2017



10 thoughts on “#EngClass: Modal Verbs”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s