Modals - Usage

The modal verbs include can, must, may, might, will, would, should. They are used with other verbs to express ability, obligation, possibility, and so on. Below is a list showing the most useful modals and their most common meanings:

Modal Meaning Example

USE OF CAN:
can to express ability I can speak a little Russian.

can to request permission Can I open the window?


USE OF MAY:
may to express possibility I may be home late.

may to request permission May I sit down, please?

USE OF MUST:
must to express obligation I must go now.

must to express strong belief She must be over 90 years old.

USE OF SHOUL/WOULD:
should to give advice You should stop smoking.

would to request or offer Would you like a cup of tea?
would in if-sentences If I were you, I would say sorry.

NOTE: Modal verbs are unlike other verbs. They do not change their form (spelling) and they have no infinitive or participle (past/present). The modals must and can need substitute verbs to express obligation or ability in the different tenses. Here are some examples:

1. Past simple Sorry I'm late. I had to finish my math test.

2. Present perfect She's had to return to Korea at short notice.

3. Future You'll have to work hard if you want to pass the exams.

4. Infinitive I don't want to have to go.

5. Past simple I couldn't/wasn't able to walk until I was 3 years old.

6. Present perfect I haven't been able to solve this problem. Can you help?

7. Future I'm not sure if I will be able to come to your party.

8. Infinitive I would love to be able to play the piano.

Summary

The modal verbs include can, must, may, might, will, would, should. They are used with other verbs to express ability, obligation, possibility, and so on. Below is a list showing the most useful modals and their most common meanings:

Modal Meaning Example

USE OF CAN:
can to express ability I can speak a little Russian.

can to request permission Can I open the window?


USE OF MAY:
may to express possibility I may be home late.

may to request permission May I sit down, please?

USE OF MUST:
must to express obligation I must go now.

must to express strong belief She must be over 90 years old.

USE OF SHOUL/WOULD:
should to give advice You should stop smoking.

would to request or offer Would you like a cup of tea?
would in if-sentences If I were you, I would say sorry.

NOTE: Modal verbs are unlike other verbs. They do not change their form (spelling) and they have no infinitive or participle (past/present). The modals must and can need substitute verbs to express obligation or ability in the different tenses. Here are some examples:

1. Past simple Sorry I'm late. I had to finish my math test.

2. Present perfect She's had to return to Korea at short notice.

3. Future You'll have to work hard if you want to pass the exams.

4. Infinitive I don't want to have to go.

5. Past simple I couldn't/wasn't able to walk until I was 3 years old.

6. Present perfect I haven't been able to solve this problem. Can you help?

7. Future I'm not sure if I will be able to come to your party.

8. Infinitive I would love to be able to play the piano.

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