Modal Verbs

English Grammar


Modal verbs are a part of the larger category called auxiliary verbs which are verbs that cannot be used on their own. They need to be accompanied by another (main) verb. Sometimes modal verbs are called modal auxiliaries.

The following words are modal verbs: Can, Could, May, Might, Must, Shall, Should, Will, Would.

They are modal auxiliary verbs that provide additional information about the verb that follows it.

Modal verbs are used to express ability, obligation, permission, assumptions, probability and possibility, requests and offers, and advice. Each modal verb can have more than meaning which depends on the context of that sentence (or question).


Structure with Modal Verbs

A Modal verb is followed by another verb in the base form (the infinitive without the 'To') and they are not conjugated (we don't add an 'S' in third person). See the following structure:

Subject + Modal Verb + Verb (base form of the infinitive)


Modal Verbs in Negative Sentences

Subject + Modal Verb + not + Verb (base form of the infinitive)

As you can see in the examples above, contractions of the Modal verb + not are normally possible.

The negative of can is cannot ('not' is joined to 'can') and the contraction is can't

Modal Verbs in Questions

Modal Verb + Subject + Verb (base form of the infinitive)


Uses of Modal Verbs

Below we have a list of Modal verbs and the different uses of each with examples.

Modal Verbs Summary Chart

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