In this article, we’ll be looking at modal verbs. What are they? What can you do with them? And how do you use them?
What is a Modal Verbs?
A modal verb is a type of auxiliary verb that expresses possibility, ability, permission, or obligation. They’re sometimes called modal auxiliary verbs.
Here are some of the most common modal verbs:
can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should, must
Remember that you need to use the modal verb with its particle to make a verb phrase. And if you want to use the modal on its own, you need to add -ing or past tense to it.
Modal verbs are used for things like possibility and necessity:
- Sue might be late today. (Possibility)
- You must do your homework. (Necessity)
A modal verb can also be used to give advice or an order:
- You should go to bed early tonight.
- You mustn’t forget your lunch.
- You will get a cold if you go outside in those wet clothes. (Advice)
- You need to start doing your chores. (Order)
You can also use some modal verbs to ask questions or make requests:
- Can I have a drink, please?
- Can you help me with my homework?
- Could I start tomorrow, please?
We use most modal verbs to give advice, make requests and ask for and give permission.
Take a look at these sentences:
- Can I borrow your pen? (Request)
- I couldn’t help noticing your new hairstyle. (Statement)
- You mustn’t worry so much about exams and things. (Advice)
Here are some more sentences:
- You mustn’t yell at me like that. (Statement)
- Do you mind if I turn the TV on? (Request)
- Don’t put so much salt on your food. (Advice)
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In each case, there’s a word before the verb and one after it. There’s always an “after it” part, whether you add -ing or past tense to the verb.
The word is called the modal particle. The verb with its modal particle is a single unit of grammar and we call it a “modal verb phrase”.
Modal verbs are special because they’re used with other verbs. They can be part of tenses like past continuous and future continuous.
Take a look at these sentences:
- I can’t understand this article.
- Can you turn on the light?
- How often do you watch TV?
They have modal verbs in them. The models are underlined and the modal particles are bold.
In the first two sentences, the modal verb and its particle go together to make a single phrase. But in the third sentence, there aren’t two words, just one.
Modal verbs can be used on their own too. Here they’re not part of a verb phrase:
- You can take this article home with you if you like.
- I might go swimming later, but I’m not sure yet.
- You mustn’t be late.
In each case, there’s just the modal verb on its own, but it can still have an “-ing” or past tense on the end.
Modal verbs have other uses too. They can be used with question words like when, why, and how. Here are some examples:
- Why can’t I watch TV?
- How often do you speak to your aunt?
- When can you do it?
- How can I get there?
Since modal verbs are auxiliary verbs, they’re not always used with another verb. Take a look at these examples:
- Can I go home now? (NOT May I go home now?)
- I mustn’t stay up late. (NOT I mustn’t will I stay up late.)
But there are lots of other auxiliary verbs you can use on their own. For example:
- I can do it if I like. (NOT I can will I do it if I like.)
- That must be a mistake. (NOT That must will it be a mistake.)